Equine Liability

Whose Fault Is it Anyway: Can You Guess Who’s Liable in These Equine Liability Scenarios?

They say there are two sides to every story, but when it comes to equine law and horse-related liability, two sides are just a place to start. Even the most common and seemingly mundane horse-related incidents (a stepped-on foot, an unexpected spook, falling off at the walk) has more than one interpretation under the law. Even, it might surprise you to learn, when those laws are designed to protect professionals in equine-related activities. 

Equine Activity Liability Acts

 If you work in the industry in any capacity as a professional or plan to, it’s important to develop a basic understanding of the Equine Activity Liability Act in your state (click here for a breakdown of state-by-state Equine Liability statutes). These laws are designed to offer protection for professionals, but coverage is not a sure thing. Posting state-specific “WARNING” signs at riding arenas, or where equine activities are taking place, can mitigate your risk. Provide properly drafted written contracts and releases in advance of professional services (instruction, horses, or renting out equipment or tack) also helps. 

These measures are just a place to start, however. As we’ll see in the following scenarios provided by Yvonne C. Ocrant, Esq., your best bet is always to consult with a knowledgeable equine attorney. He or she can help you take the steps necessary to preserve your liability protections before a problem arises. Here’s why that’s important. 

These measures are just a place to start, however. As we’ll see in the following scenarios provided by Yvonne C. Ocrant, Esq., your best bet is always to consult with a knowledgeable equine attorney. He or she can help you take the steps necessary to preserve your liability protections before a problem arises. Here’s why that’s important. 

Scenario #1: Your Mare Won’t Load 

It’s been a long, hot day at the horse show (big surprise!) and the line of trailers trying to leave is winding past the tented stalls up to the road. Everyone wants to go home, but, of course, your mare isn’t everyone. She’s refusing to walk up the ramp into the trailer, a situation you can’t fix with just yourself there to load her and a line of people waiting behind you. You ask a spectator in the tent nearby for a hand. Low and behold, during the loading process, your mare slams his arm into the partition, breaking it. Now what? Can your unfortunate assistant sue for his injuries?  

Who’s at Fault 

“Liability protections do not apply to everyone and every activity involving horses,” explains Yvonne C. Ocrant in her article, “Three Days, Three Ways, One Law”, for Eventing USA. “The first question is whether that person was a participant engaged in equine activity. If they were not under the applicable equine Law, you do not have the liability protections under the Equine Act. 

“It would be possible to argue the person was not riding, training, assisting in medical treatment, driving, a passenger, or assisting you in any of these activities. Therefore, this person was not a participant engaged in an equine activity,” Ocrant says. That means, he could seek damages for his injury. Depending on the specifics of the situation, Ocrant says, additional facts could apply. These may assist in your defense, but that possibility is less probable. 

The verdict: You’re likely to be found liable. 

Equine Liability

Scenario #2: Your Beginner Takes a Tumble

As a trainer, you’re always careful about letting your beginner riders mount and dismount unattended. On this day, however, a novice adult rider leads her senior lesson horse to the mounting block and begins to get on. You, unfortunately, are busy instructing another rider. Too late, you realize there is a trot pole sticking out behind the horse. As the rider mounts, the gelding backs up, inadvertently tripping over it. The jarring motion causes your inexperienced amateur to fall off, injuring her wrist in the process. So, was this fall part of the ‘inherent risks’ the rider assumed under your state Equine Act (and supported by your arena WARNING sign and the release she signed at her first lesson)? It’s not as cut-and-dried as you think. 

Who’s at Fault 

The rider’s wrist injury would likely fall under ‘inherent risks’ if she saw the rail while mounting, knew her horse could trip over it and decided to swing a leg over anyway. The sticky point, however, is the rider’s inexperience. “If this was a beginner rider, and she did not know the horse would back up when mounting, then possibly [this would not fall under ‘inherent risks’],” Ocrant explains. “Each situation would be evaluated under a case-by-case basis, taking into account the language of the applicable Law, the cause of the injury, the risks assumed by the injured person, and any exceptions to the protections provided by the Equine Act itself.”

The verdict: You’re likely protected under your state’s Equine Activity Liability Act, but exceptions could apply. 

When it comes to horses, your best bet, as an equine professional, is always to expect the unexpected. Learn the laws of your state and how they apply to you and your horse-related business. Put safety first, always, and err on the side of caution. Lastly, seek legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices equine law before problems arise if you can, or as soon as possible thereafter. 

Source:“Three Days, Three Ways, One Law” by Yvonne C. Ocrant, Esq. Equine Attorney, Eventing USA, May/June 2017.

This article is intended for informational and educational purposes only, and is provided with the understanding that PonyApp and the lawyer cited are not rendering legal advice. If you have questions regarding the subject matter, or are interested in consulting with a licensed attorney practicing equine law, contact: Yvonne C. Ocrant, Esq. |yocrant@hinshawlaw.com | 312-704-3080

 

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on email
Email

Leave a Reply

Posts you might like