Warning! Farm Owner Liability

A Taranaki farm owner appealed to the High Court against his conviction and sentence on charges laid in relation to the discharge of dairy effluent.

The farm owner argued on appeal that he had put his employed sharemilker in charge of the effluent disposal system on the farm, and as no problem had been brought to his attention, then his sharemilker was responsible for the offending and not him.

The High Court was not at all sympathetic, stating that such an argument flew in the face of the legislative purpose of the RMA which was plainly to avoid contamination by enacting sanctions for those who should take steps to ensure that such contamination did not occur. Further, it was contrary to the RMA to allow farm owners to escape liability if they stepped back from any active farming role.

Regardless of the degree (if any) of the farm owners involvement in the daily operations of the farm and the effluent system, it was the farm owners legal responsibility to ensure he or she (or both) were familiar with the state of the system and in view of excessive rain fall prior to the offending, should have checked holding ponds were coping.

The farm owner’s fine of $60,000.00 was endorsed by the High Court. The sharemilker had paid an infringement fine of $1,500.00.

The message is clear, farm owners will not escape liability by handing over responsibility and stepping back from inactive farming roles.

If you are concerned about your liability for the actions (or lack of) of your employees and contractors then contact

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