Farmers have been uneasy lately with talk about dust control regulations for normal farm activities and the like. While most of that talk is about regulations that could be imposed even without legislative action by agencies at the federal level, they can at least rest more easily that as far as the state of Indiana goes, lawmakers understand farmers need the freedom to operate without fear of reprisal for actions, as long as they are following good stewardship practices.
This year's Indiana General Assembly passed legislation that makes Indiana's right to farm law even stronger. "It was already a good law compared to what other states have," says Kent Yeager, Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc. "It's now even stronger."
What the new legislation does is address what might happen if a neighbor or anyone else attempted to bring suit against a farmer for such things as odor or dust. The court, under the new legislation, would have the option to determine and declare such things as frivolous lawsuits if it decided that indeed, there was no basis for the lawsuit, given the normal nature of farming.
The law allows that if the court determines that it is a frivolous lawsuit, the court can force the party who brought the suit to pay attorney fees for the defendant in the lawsuit. So in other words if someone sued a farmer over odor, and the court determined that in terms of everyday operation procedures it was a frivolous lawsuit, the court could order the person who filed the lawsuit in the first place to reimburse the farmer for attorney fees that he or she ran up in trying to defend themselves in this suit.
Yeager believes the net result of this legislation will be that neighbors may think twice before going to the trouble of filing a law suit if they know there is the potential that they could not only have the case tossed out, but be obligated to pay not only their attorney's fees, but also fees for the person they're bringing the suit against.The legislation won't stop someone from bringing a suit if the farmer is a 'bad actor' or a good farmer who made an honest mistake that resulted in damage to someone else's property. Sometimes those cases can be settled out of court through insurance companies.