Recently I had the opportunity to visit Virginia wine country as part of the 2010 conference. I had never been to Virginia before or visited a winery there, so I was quite excited as to what I would find. What I found was this sign greeting me at each winery I visited:

“Warning: Under Virginia law there is no liability for an injury to or death of a participant in an agritourism activity conducted at this agritourism location if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of the agritourism activity. Inherent risks of agritourism activities include, among others, risks of injury inherent to land, equipment, and animals, as well as the potential for you to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death. You are assuming the risk of participating in this agritourism activity.”

Welcome to the winery!

I know what you are thinking after reading this. ‘Among others?’ Like what? For those of you keeping score at home that’s three ‘agritourisms’ in the first sentence along with a healthy dose of ‘inherents’ throughout.

The bill requiring agritourism locations to have agritourism related signs regarding the inherent risks of agritourism was passed in Virginia in 2006. Discussing this sign with people at several local wineries, lettering on the signs is required to be a certain size, presumably so everyone is properly protected (I’m not sure we’re talking about consumers here).

So what exactly is agritourism anyway? Virginia law defines agritourism asany activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, wineries, ranching, historical, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, or natural activities and attractions. An activity is an agritourism activity whether or not the participant paid to participate in the activity.” (Code of Virginia § 3.2-6400).

A 2009 press release from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is titled “See the sights as a Virginia agritourist this summer.” However, it neglects to add “…AT YOUR OWN RISK!” Surprisingly, this same press release concludes by saying, “No special preparation needed to be an agritourist.” This seems at odds with the warning sign which implies – at minimum – that a person should have a written will. The press release continues, “Just come as you are but be ready for a wonderful time down on the farm.” I would add to this, “But remember that there is no liability for an injury to or death of a participant in an agritourism activity!”

I found a summary of various state’s legislation on agritourism here (no idea how up to date it is). Washington is suspiciously absent from this list. In a bad economy, this presents considerable opportunity for Washington State lawyers – as well as sign makers if such a bill were passed. For consumers, the risks of agritourism provide a compelling argument for visiting wineries in Woodinville instead of venturing out to the inherently dangerous vineyards east of the crest. It just might save your life.

Read more about Virginia’s Agritourism statues here (Note: Opens .pdf).
Read a legal update from Tennesee here (Note: Opens .pdf).