Yes, individuals have and will sue individuals who raise bees. However, if you are using what’s recognized to be “best management practices” those lawsuits are generally thrown out of court.
Because of this risk, I made sure that my home owner’s insurance policy covers the risk of beekeeping in a suburban environment. My policy covers beekeeping the same as a dog bite. If I’m following “best management practices” they will cover the event, including any legal assistance I require due to a lawsuit.
Had my insurance company not had this policy, I would have gotten a supplemental umbrella policy. They are inexpensive.
The reason most lawsuits over raising bees are thrown out is because there is no way to conclusively prove that it was your bee or bees that committed the act be it a sting or a swarm settling in the walls of your neighbors’ house.
What are “best management practices?” In my county that means I can have no more than 4 hives in my 1/4 acre yard and the hives have to be at least 20ft from the property line. It’s also recommended that I have a 6ft privacy fence or hedge on the property line.
The fence/hedge forces the bees to fly up and over the neighbor’s yard. Once the bees are away from your apiary the risk of anyone being stung by one of your bees is the same as being stung by any random insect.
“Best management practices” also means I’m a beekeeper not a “bee haver.” I’m attending beekeeper meetings and staying informed. I’m actually managing my bees so they don’t become a nuisance in the neighborhood. Hives will swarm but are you doing what you can to prevent it or keep it in your yard.
All that being said it is a real pain in the butt to have to go through the process of clearing your beekeeping operations through the courts. Using “best management practices” greatly reduces the odds of being sued.
Coincidently, last year West Va became the first state to pass the first bill in the nation granting beekeepers immunity from civil liability. Here in VA the state bee association is working with the state legislature to pass a similar bill. With the growth of backyard beekeeping I think you’ll see more states passing such laws.
Take care, Lisa