As the hot summer days couple with high humidity in our region, farmers’ crops will ideally grow tall and produce bountiful yields. In particular, corn often grows taller than the windows of motor vehicles.
In some townships and municipalities, owners of land adjacent to a road may own the land up to and under a road. If a local government does not own the land upon which a roadway and its berm/shoulder is located, the local government will usually have an easement, which is commonly called a right-of-way. In those cases, some landowner gave the local government the right to use the land for a road, perhaps a grant of use made more than a century ago.
If the government has an easement to use land for a road and shoulder, adjacent landowners can use the land in any way that is not inconsistent with the roadway’s use as a roadway. As a result, some government entities will not mow the entire easement area along roadways, in order to allow people to use narrow strips of the easement area adjacent to their land. Some farmers appropriately take advantage of that opportunity.
However, if the government owns or has an easement over any area, the government can use that entire area to accommodate roadway traffic, including ensuring clear vision at intersections or near curves.
Therefore, growing farm crops can be removed by a local government that has an easement for roadway use over the area upon which the crops are grown. However, local government with roadway easements or roadway ownership are not always required to remove obstructions (including tall crops) on the easement (or government-owned) area, even if vision is significantly obstructed.
If a farmer grows crops anywhere on a government’s owned roadway or easement area and the crops obstruct vision (for instance, at an intersection or near a curve), the farmer may be liable for accidents that result from that obstruction.
Nonetheless, if a farmer’s crops are 50 feet high but are located exclusively on property owned by the farmer and upon property over which no local government has an easement, the crops may still obstruct vision at an intersection, but the farmer’s likelihood of liability in in that instance is much lower.
This rule of the supremacy of the government’s use of its ownerships/easement area (and liability for any use that is inconsistent with the government’s use) applies to land near railroad intersections, too. Ohio law gives local governments authority to work with railroads to manage crossings. Therefore, crops that are in a railroad’s easement area, even if not in a government’s roadway easement area, could give rise to the farmer’s liability if drivers’ vision is obstructed and accidents result.
Notably, the widths of roadway easement areas are incredibly inconsistent. Liability for accidents from obstructed vision may provide injured people some money compensation in some instances, but drivers are strongly encouraged to be extra careful at every intersection where growing crops are present, to avoid accidents in the first place.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.