What is Equine Legal Liability? What does this mean?
Liability in the horse world comes in many different forms. It means that when you own horses, are involved in the training, leasing, boarding, selling, giving lessons with horses, driving carriages, giving sleigh rides, and more, you can be at risk for being sued if there is an accident involving your animals or clients, or even spectators.
If someone is injured, and you are found to be negligent, or at fault, in some way that is out of the ordinary, then you might be sued in court. This can be a very expensive process, even if eventually you win!
The best way to avoid being in a position of being found negligent is to practice risk management strategies and SAFETY at all stages of your work. Some examples of risk management would be:
Fire prevention plans
Employee training in the event of an emergency
Visible directions to your location in the event a stranger has to call for emergency help
Fire extinguishers and alarms
Night checks of horses or other animals to be sure all is well before the long isolated evening hours
Plans for dealing with icy conditions in parking areas, walkways, and paddocks and pastures
Adequate and well maintained fencing
Lack of exposed nails, or other sharp objects or trash and abandoned machinery
Dogs: are they well mannered and will you allow visiting dogs
Well run lesson programs and safe lesson horses as well as tack or other equipment in good repair
One of the most common areas of contention is in lesson programs. This is where the instructor must be careful to avoid mistakes like mismatching horse and rider, using faulty equipment, or being unaware of the surrounding noises or distractions. Also instructors should be sure to determine the expertise level of their students. If the student is a beginner, then too often the basics of horse handling and safety are skipped. Likewise, the instructor shouldn’t teach beyond a level at which they are competent.
There are additional methods to help protect yourself if you are the equine professional or horse owner.
The first is through use of a Liability Waiver. This is a form, usually custom made per horse operation, which states clearly that the signer of the form is about to enter into an activity that is inherently dangerous and that the risk of injury and even death is a possibility. To be effective, these forms should be tailored to whatever operation or event is using the form. In other words, a generalized form is rarely effective. Also, the form should contain specific language from the resident state’s Equine Liability Law Statue. The liability waiver is a complex subject and will be addressed fully in additional articles.
The Equine Liability Statues are designed to limit the liability of equine professionals and event organizers in the case of injury or death resulting from the inherent risks of horse activity.
Copies of your state’s liability statute can be ordered from many local Horse Councils or purchased online. These copies should be large and must be displayed in a prominent location or two. Also offered are warnings that inform spectators that they are in a dangerous area and are also limited from suing professionals in the event of injury.
Finally, most professionals should carry insurance. Insurance can come in different forms. For instance, most owners of barns may have what is called liability insurance. This insurance protects the owner from suits arising from injury to people; for example, when a person is injured by a horse, bitten by a dog, or slips on ice. However, this is not sufficient insurance to protect a professional in the case of injury to the animals. If there is a fire, or perhaps a horse is released by an employee and injured, liability insurance will not be effective. In this case, one must have Care, Custody and Control insurance. This will protect the professional against injury to the horses themselves. Barn owners who allow instructors on their property may also be required by their own insurance companies to request that they be listed as Additional Insureds on the instructor’s policy.
Enjoy and Safe Riding!!!