Hosting an event is a great way to build community morale, gain exposure for the host and possibly even make a little money. Farms can make excellent venues for hosting all types of events.

The farmer hosting an event should make it his or her goal that each event-goer is having too good of a time to think of anything else. But the host should always be aware of the unique risks of using a farm as the event venue. He or she should always be taking steps to minimize exposure to potential liability. There are common risks associated with hosting events on farms – and simple measures that can be taken to ensure the event runs smoothly.

A farmer should be sure he or she is permitted to host an event under the applicable zoning code. Even if the farm is located in an area zoned for agriculture, that doesn’t necessarily mean farm events will be permitted, because farm events are often considered “commercial” rather than agricultural. To avoid entanglements with zoning authorities, review the zoning code to ensure farm events are not prohibited. But if farm events are not allowed that doesn’t mean the farmer is out of luck. A farmer could ask for a “conditional use permit,” which would allow for a variation from the zoning code.

After determining the farm is eligible to host an event, a determination needs to be made as to whether the event is required to accommodate people of all abilities. If a farm event is open to the general public, it may be necessary to ensure it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act requires that places of public amusement make themselves accessible. That may include installing wide smooth walkways so people in wheelchairs can navigate the event. It may be a good idea to visit www.sba.gov – the Small Business Administration website – which offers tips for complying with the act and any additional state laws.

The next step is ensuring food safety and sanitation. That poses a more acute risk with farms that have animals. For example if the event serves food and includes an opportunity for guests to pet animals, it’s not difficult to imagine a lawsuit claiming the farmer served food too close to animals. Farmers should be proactive by posting signs advising guests to wash their hands as well as supplying the hand sanitizer to do so. It would also be a good idea to keep the areas where food is served substantially far away from the areas with animals. Speaking of animals, farmers should ensure all animals are properly fenced and secured.

If food is being sold at the event, the farm may be required to obtain a temporary restaurant permit from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. A temporary restaurant is a food establishment that operates at a fixed location for a period of no more than 14 days in conjunction with a single event. A farmer should contact a department licensing specialist to ensure all necessary permits have been obtained.

A final area of potential liability that farmers must take steps to avoid when hosting an event stems from injuries that occur on the farm premises. Most farmers have farm liability insurance, but in many situations such a policy would not cover injuries that occur during a farm event. Each farmer should contact his or her insurance agent to check that coverage extends to hosting an event on the farm.

Another way to limit injury-related liability is through the use of waivers. Waivers are not a perfect solution for absolving a farmer of all liability, but they can be useful tools for communicating potential risk and discouraging lawsuits.

No one enjoys thinking about liability, but it’s important for a farmer thinking about hosting an event to be aware of the risks and attempt to minimize them. The farmer who does that is more likely to have his or her event run smoothly, which will enable the event-goers to have the best time possible.

Amy Ebeling is an attorney with Ruder Ware. Visit www.ruderware.com for more information.