Lesson Six
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Intermediate Beekeeping  -- Lesson Six   Bee Laws

Intermediate Beekeeping

 Bee Law and what you should know.

There are various forms of the law.  Criminal law, civil law, natural law, etc.   Almost everyone agrees that law is a science but not like chemistry  and mathematics.   Law deals with a set of circumstances which are measured by the standards of justice at any point in time.    Written code of the law depends on evidence and its interpretation by the court.  Ignorance of the law has never been accepted as a good defense.

You must realize that a small part of the law is the enactment of laws by legislative bodies and signed into law by the chief executive of the governmental body.  Our law represents decisions of earlier controversies which all the courts of the English speaking world regard as guide posts in the search for justice.  It is impossible for an attorney to know all the law in tens of thousand volumes of code.  It is not so much to know the law as to know where to find cases that apply to the law.

The law that we are going to consider deal with beekeeping topics such as ownership, liability, contracts, etc.

If you are facing a conflict which might lead to a court trial, consider the following:

  1. Litigation is expensive.  
  2. The time involved will be months and could extend into years.
  3. If a settlement fails and the principal at stake or the amount of money involved warrant it, you must litigate.
  4. Select the best counsel and the best lawyer.
  5. Follow the advice of your counsel
  6. You could lose.   You might win.   

If litigation is necessary, a trial of the facts and law in a Court of General Jurisdiction will result.  Appeals lie usually on the law alone.  

Based on past applications of  the law we can point out the following:

Possession of bees

Blackstone Commentaries, Book II divides the entire animal kingdom into two classes.  Domesticated animals (ferae domitia) and wild (ferae naturae).   Wild animals are also divided into two classes -- those free to roam at will and those which have been subjected to man's dominion.

The honey bee that exist in the wild (lives in a tree cavity) is little different from the honey bee that lives within a man-made hive.   However, honey bees do swarm and thus are free to roam at will.  Honey bees do not trespass and the owner of property has no title to wild things using his property.  The owner of property can prevent others from coming onto his/her property and taking them and the property owner has a right to capture a swarm and hive it.    Trespassing is a violation of the law and is enforceable.

"So long as bees remain in the hive of the claimant and on his premises or premises under his control, they are his." (Supra.§ 5).

It is when they leave his/her hive and premises, as in swarming, that complications arise.  Case law has reflected the general idea that as long as the beekeeper keeps the swarm in sight and can identify them has his/hers, the beekeeper retains ownership of the bees.  However, in getting the bees hived, one may be charged with trespassing.   

Liability

Negligence means the failure to exercise the care of an ordinarily prudent person.  The liability of beekeepers appears often in the code of law.  Since bees sting by nature, it is necessary for any plaintiff to show that the owner of honey bees is negligent in his care of the bees.   In any case of injury by honey bees the plaintiff  will have to show that the bees were vicious, provide proof they were vicious, and inform the owner of the bees that they were vicious.   If the owner of the honey bees failed to correct the problem and the bees continued to be vicious, a basis exist for a claim of negligence.

   The beekeeper has control over the following and can be considered negligent if he/she fails to observe the exercise of an ordinary prudent person.

  1. The owner of bees has  entire control over where bee hives are located.    It is negligence to locate hives of bees where they may be expected to injure others.     Bees located on a lot line is not a prudent location for bee hives.   Or keeping a large number of bees on a small property.   It is also negligent to handle bees at a time or in a manner that will cause the bees to injure others.
  2. The owner of bees has entire control over bees being moved from one location to another. It is negligence to move bees without some protection to those along the route the bees will take to the next location.    Some states require a bee net to cover a load of bees in transit. Bees should be secured to avoid accidental spills.  ` Bees should not be moved during heavy traffic hours and in congested living areas.  To avoid a charge of negligence, a beekeeper should close the entrances on the bee hives or cover the hives so loose bees would not escape from the hive.
  3. The owner of bees has some control over the aggressiveness of his/her bees.   It is negligence to know that you have aggressive bees.   If it can be proved that you harbor aggressive bees you are failing to exercise the common practice of replacing these aggressive bee with gentle stock.  Since the invasion of the Africanized honey bee, most states have enacted laws dealing with them (calling for their destruction).  

Contracts

A contract is an agreement between two parties.  It can not be broken without the agreement of both parties.   The terms spelled out in the contract are binding on both parties and can be enforced by a court of law.

Get it in writing.    If you are buying bees, bee equipment, etc. be sure to get a clear title.   A paid receipt is good but a transfer of ownership is better.   Pay by check rather than cash.   Develop a paper trail.   Make sure the person selling is the actual owner of what is being sold. 

A contract to pollinate crops is almost a necessity.  The contract spells out a number of things to protect the grower as well as the beekeeper.   See the sample contract in Part IV with pollination.

We would recommend that you get a copy of Bees and the Law by Murry Loring DBVM Jd.   This book is now out-of-print but you may find copies available.  

Other notes:

I am personally aware of two cases in which beekeepers have been taken to court and lost.  In both cases, a little prudence by the beekeeper could have avoided the entire mess.   If you keep bees in a community of people, you are more than likely to face some of the following problems.   You can avoid them.

  1. Bees visiting your neighbors swimming pool or hot tub.   Your bees will become a nuisance.  You can avoid this by providing a water source close to your bee hives.
  2.  Bees located where others can see them.   Your bees will not be a nuisance but they will be noticed by neighbors and any bee problem will become your problem.    In today's scientific world, it is entirely possible to identify the hive of bees that a bee came from.   It is possible to take the DNA from the stinger of a bee and match it up to the bees in your hives.  Don't hide behind the old "how do you know it was one of my bees?" 
  3. Don't put your bees in harms way.  Children throw rocks and upset bee hives.  If a stinging incident occurs, are you negligent?   Did you put up a sign warning of the dangers posed by your bee hives?  Did you have a fence to prevent the children from getting up close to the hives?  

One final note:  Make sure your bees are registered and inspected as required by law.  The best defense is to not be breaking the law in the first place.   Often  bee inspectors are called upon to give depositions  regarding your bees.  They may also be called into court as expert witness.

If faced with potential problems, we would advise you to contact an attorney familiar with agriculture law. 

Working with your state inspection program:

All states have laws regarding apiary inspection.  The regulatory body is usually the Department of Agriculture and some division within it.  Some states have full time staff to handle an apiary section and others do not.  When moving bees from one state to another, inspection of bees is regulated by the receiving state.  Many require previous inspection before arrival and will do follow-up inspections once the bees are located within the new state.   It is very important to understand the laws in the states you are dealing with.  For example, some states do not allow bees on comb brought into their states: North Carolina and Alabama are two that I am aware of.  It is possible to transport bees thru these states but not move them into the state. Other states such as Indiana restrict package bees from states with small hive beetles.