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Hello dear readers!
Todays blog is not written by the normal author. You may notice a slight tonal shift overall, and I don’t want you to worry, the normal author will return for the next blog post. Probably. But if you like me better, email Nicole and tell her!
Anyway, my name is Drake Larson. If you’ve listened to the podcasts, I’m the guy that talked at you in the episode about bee law (and second dates, which are way more interesting). Nicole asked me to condense my take on bee law into this blog, so it’s mostly a rehashing from the podcast, but it may be marginally more structured and intelligible, and you may be able to actually glean some information from it in this format. Maybe.
This is going to be more in-depth than the podcast. And it may be boring. I’ll put a TL:DR at the bottom for you young folks that just want your information and want to dash.
So, from the top. I’m an attorney. I’m licensed to practice law in Colorado, and only in Colorado. Therefore this blog is focused on and around Colorado law. Most states have very similar laws… but I haven’t read those laws, and I can’t promise that this is good information in other states. So basically, take this blog with a grain of salt, and if you have more questions, you should find an attorney in your state of choice to chat with.
Further, this blog isn’t written with the intent of forming an attorney client privilege with ya’ll. IE, just because you read this doesn’t mean that I’m representing you in any way. That should be obvious… but you never know.
Okay. Let’s get down to it. Nicole had asked me to write this up because apparently a lot of people are worried that if they have a bee hive on their property, they may be exposed to some kind of liability. If one of their bees flies into some old ladies bonnet and she takes a nose dive down the stairs… can she sue you? That’s the million-dollar question. And the million-dollar answer is…. It depends! Yes, dear reader, unfortunately for you (and fortunately for me) the law is not anywhere near as black and white as people like you to think. There’s about a million different variables and factors to consider before answering our simple question about grandma and her bee. But fret not! We can take those factors apart and get to an answer.
So first and foremost, you have two areas of law that are important here – civil and criminal. Simply put, criminal law is when the State “sues” you for misconduct. Criminal law gets involved if your actions are so egregious and so deliberately harmful that society needs to step in. Criminal law almost always requires intent to actually cause the harm that was caused. When it comes to bees and bee stings and everything, we’re talking about… criminal law is not going to get involved. Unless you’re… I dunno, training the bees to kill your enemies in a misguided plot for world domination. (If that’s the case, email me. I’d love to pick your brain… my recent schemes have NOT panned out).
So that means that really the only thing to focus on is civil law. Civil law is when one private citizen sues another private citizen because some damage occurred. Civil law covers A LOT of topics, but we’re just looking at one today – torts. Torts are some fancy English word, but for now it just means “you negligently damaged my stuff and I want you to pay me for it”. This is where, potentially, someone could sue you for harm caused by your bees. There’s a few factors that go into created a Tort suit. There are as follows:
In order to win a basic tort you have to prove that someone had a duty to behave in a certain way, they negligently breached that duty, and that their breach caused some kind of damage.
In the case of grandma and the bee, we have clear damage – the poor old woman is probably dead. That’s damage, so we check that one off the list. That’s easy. The other factors are a little harder. Let’s break them down:
The way Duty and Breach are looked at is typically with the question of “What would a reasonable person in this situation do”. Or, more specifically, “How would a reasonable bee keeper keep their bees in order to reduce risk of them stinging elderly neighbors”. By the way, this is Nicole’s wheelhouse. Maybe she’ll write a blog about how to minimize risks. That’s way not in my paygrade. But basically here you don’t need to out of your way to build 50 foot tall steel walls around your property or anything, but you should take reasonable steps to avoid extra risk. Don’t put your bee hives on the property line, perhaps. Things like that.
However, Duty and Breach gets a little weird when wild animals are involved. Basically, the Courts have said that if you own a vicious or mischievous animal, you’re liable for the damage they cause EVEN IF you behaved reasonably. Now, I don’t believe that in the state of Colorado bees have ever been classified as either vicious or mischievous, but they probably fit the definition of mischievous – which is basically that they have a tendency to attack without provocation. Nicole has told me that bees DO NOT attack without provocation…. But if you get sued, it’s not up to Nicole, its up to your judge, who probably doesn’t know as much about bees.
Anyway, the long and short of it on duty and breach is this: Do what you can to make sure that your bees aren’t near other people – try to minimize risk. It’ll help you in the long run.
This is the fun factor. This is where we win, and this is why people don’t typically sue over bee stings. Quite simply, causation means that the person suing you has to prove that YOU caused the damage. The problem is that it’s real difficult to determine if the bee that caused the damage was your bee, or a wild bee. And it probably isn’t good enough for them to just say that you have LOTS of bees, and statistically speaking it probably is your bee. They have to prove the cause, and they will almost certainly fail. Therefore, no liability! If they manage to find a way to prove it was your bee, or if they can convince a judge or jury that it was, then you definitely could still be sued, but I think it’s a long shot.
You probably won’t get sued if you own bees, even if they go berserk and harm someone. However, any time you own any sort of animal, you expose yourself to liability. It is POSSIBLE to be successfully sued over your bees. But at the same time, any time you walk out of your house into the wide world you expose yourself to all kinds of liability. It’s just a fact of life. As long as you take precautions and do things the right way, you’ll minimize your risk and you’ll enjoy all of the benefits of owning bees!