Equine Liability Laws by Randi Thompson
What you need to know. The Exceptions That Will Affect You in the Equine Liability Statutes
Do you think that the Equine Liability Statutes protects you from any lawsuit simply by putting up the signage and getting a release form signed? If you do, you are wrong! There are horse people who believe that they are protected completely from any form of liability because their state has these statues. However, when they end up in a legal situation they are unprepared for what will happen. They did not know that there are exceptions!
The Equine Liability Statutes are different for each state. Each state requires specific signage to be posted and specific language to be included in any contracts and liability releases.
What are the Equine Liability Statutes for your state?
First, you need to look closely at the Equine Liability Statutes for your state? Click on this link, and then click on your state to see what yours looks like. http://www.animallaw.info/articles/armpequineliability.htm There are 4 states do not have an Equine Liability Statutes, CA, MD, NV, & NY. If you are in one of these states you should contact and attorney as soon as possible for advice.
Warning Signs and Liability Release Forms Required for Your State
Begin by checking to see if your state’s Equine Liability Statute requires posted warning signage. Next look carefully at what is required in the “liability release form” for your state. This is an example of one from Missouri.
“Every equine activity sponsor shall post and maintain signs which contain the warning notice specified in this subsection. Such signs shall be placed in a clearly visible location on or near stables, corrals or arenas where the equine professional conducts equine activities if such stables, corrals or arenas are owned, managed or controlled by the equine professional. The warning notice specified in this subsection shall appear on the sign in black letters on a white background with each letter to be a minimum of one inch in height. Every written contract entered into by an equine professional and equine activity sponsor for the providing of professional services, instruction or the rental of equipment or tack or an equine to a participant, whether or not the contract involves equine activities on or off the location or site of the equine professional's or equine activity sponsor's business, shall contain in clearly readable print the warning notice specified in this subsection. The signs and contracts described in this subsection shall contain the following warning notice: WARNING Under Missouri law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to or the death of a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities pursuant to the Revised Statutes of Missouri. (L. 1994 S.B. 457)”
What is NOT Covered. Exceptions and Provisions that You Need to Know
Make sure you read and understand the full text of the statute including the “what is not covered” or in other words, the exceptions to liability, that are included in your states Equine Liability Statutes. For example, this section is from the NC Equine Liability Statutes in the Summary area: “However, there are exceptions to this rule: a person, corporation, or partnership will be held liable for injuries of an equine activity participant if he or she displays a willful and wanton or intentional disregard for the safety of the participant and if he or she fails to make reasonable and prudent efforts in ensuring the safety of the participant” This is why it is advisable to contact an Equine Attorney in your area who can make sure you have taken the right precautions and preparations in order, including the records that you need to keep.
At first glance, it probably looks pretty easy to understand. You may think you really are protected against any claims. Until you look a little closer. Following are the “provisions” or the “exceptions to protection” from the Equine Liability Statutes of Missouri. I have also added a few what if’s to each section so that you can begin to understand what they might really mean to you. This is how that section begins: “The provisions of subsection 2 of this section shall not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional or any other person if the equine activity sponsor, equine professional or person;”
Now we are going to take a closer look at how the ‘exceptions” to the Equine Liability Statutes might not protect you. Basically, these not inherent risks to being around horses. For example , look at: ”(1) Provided the equipment or tack and knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty and such equipment or tack was faulty to the extent that it did cause the injury; or”
Do you have paperwork that proves that you are checking your tack on a regular basis to make sure it is safe and in good condition? Where are your records? What are the dates? Can you show that you have repaired equipment (bills) or replaced equipment as needed? How would you explain if a stirrup leather broke? Or if the girth leather split causing the saddle to fall off?
(2) Provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity and determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine based on the participant's age, obvious physical condition or the participant's representations of his ability;”
Are you sure that putting that new rider on a green horse is really safe? How can you prove that they are? What tests are you requiring of the rider to make sure that they are prepared before you put them on any horse? Do you have charts or records that show the process you are using to determine which horses can be ridden by which level of riders? Are you keeping incident reports when something happens with a horse or a rider gets injured or comes off a horse? Did they fall off, get bucked off? What happened and when?
3) Owns, leases, rents or otherwise is in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities upon which the participant sustained injuries because of a dangerous latent condition which was known to the equine activity sponsor, equine professional or person and for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted;”
Is your riding ring free from obstructions that do not belong there when riders are using it? Is there a tractor sitting in the corner? Is the footing rough or full of holes? When you take other riders out for a cooling off walk on the trail around the barn, what happens if the horse they are on trips in a hole that has been there for some time that you have not taken the time to fill?
4) Commits an act or omission that constitutes willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant and that act or omission caused the injury;
What if you take a person around a horse, who had very little to no experience with horses, and they get kicked, bit or stepped on? Who is responsible? When people come to your barn, what are you doing to keep them away from horses that could be dangerous to them? Can a 6 year old read a warning sign that says a horse bites?
5) Intentionally injures the participant;
Intentional is such a broad term. How would the law look at an incident where you do not tell one of your students, who gets injured, that the horse you have put them on has flipped over, or has bucked riders off before?
6) Fails to use that degree of care that an ordinarily careful and prudent person would use under the same or similar circumstances
You ask a friend to help you bring in horses with you. They do not have a lot of experience. Somehow, they lose control of the horse and are trampled resulting in injuries. Or, you are teaching a student and do not check the girth. The saddle slides around the horse resulting in the rider getting dragged, and hurt. Who is responsible?
Now That You Know More About The Equine Liability Statutes…
They do not protect horse people from lawsuits unless they have taken the time to make sure that they have followed all the requirements and have the records to show how they are doing this. Do yourself a favor, contact an equine attorney in your area today and find out if you are doing all that you can do to protect you from a possible lawsuit
This article provides general coverage of its subject area. It is provided free, with the understanding that the author, publisher and/or publication does not intend this article to be viewed as rendering legal advice or service. If legal advice is sought or required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author shall not be responsible for any damages resulting from any error, inaccuracy or omission contained in this article.
Randi Thompson is internationally recognized in social media for her award winning “Horse and Rider Awareness" and “How to Market Your Horse Business”. She is a keynote speaker at national events, author, and expert legal consultant for the horse industry.