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Who is liable???

Published 01-19-2010 2:19 PM

This blog was written by Mr. Milton Toby, who is an attorney and the Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association's Equine Law Section.

Better Safe than Sorry

Horses are accidents waiting to happen. Careful management can forestall many mishaps, but it is impossible to prevent all accidents. Because liability for injury to a person or horse can spell financial ruin for a horse business, prudent risk management requires a multi-faceted approach. There is no one “best” solution. The following general guidelines are suggestions only, and are not intended to be legal advice. An attorney should be consulted for answers to specific questions.

1. Always act reasonably: Everyone, not just people working with horses, has a legal duty to act in a reasonable manner. What is reasonable will depend on the facts and circumstances of the particular situation. It might be reasonable to put an experienced rider on a green horse, for example, but clearly unreasonable to use the same green horse as the mount for a first-time rider. Many lawsuits can be short-circuited if an injury was the result of reasonable actions on the part of the defendant.

2. Always use written liability waivers: A liability waiver is a legal contract in which a participant in an equine activity assumes the risks of taking part in the activity. A few states do not recognize liability waivers at all, and many courts are reluctant to enforce waivers as a matter of public policy. If liability for mistakes can be eliminated by a simple written document, the reasoning goes, there is no incentive to be careful. Liability waivers can be valuable, however, because they give notice that the equine activity is potentially dangerous.

3. Get to know your state’s equine liability law: Forty-six states (all except California, Maryland, Nevada, and New York) have laws that limit the liability of the sponsor of an equine activity for a participant’s personal injury. The laws generally require a warning of the inherent risks of taking part in an equine activity, such as specific language on a prominent sign or in a written contract, and the negligence of the activity sponsor and his or her employees is not covered.

4. Buy commercial liability insurance: Liability insurance covers injuries resulting from negligence, unlike written waivers and state liability laws. It is a mistake to rely on homeowners insurance because those policies generally exclude commercial activities such as a boarding farm, riding stable, or lesson business.

Page last updated: 7/30/2013 11:42:00 AM