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An Introduction to Equine Liability Issues in Tennessee


By Melanie R. Dunlap
TennesseeEquine Activities Act
Tennesseeis home to many horses and horse owners, and with any equine activity, legal issues may arise.  Tennessee recognizes that equine activities carry inherent risks, and, to encourage participation, it limits the liability of those involved in equine activities.  Through the enactment of the Equine Activities Act (“the Act”), Tenn. Code Ann. §44-20-101, et seq., certain people (including corporations and partnerships) are not liable for an injury to or the death of certain people resulting from the inherent risk of an equine activity.  However, to be protected from liability, people must meet certain criteria defined in the Act.  There are also exceptions to immunity from liability. 
The Equine Activities Act also requires a “warning” sign.  Equine professionals (defined as a person who, for compensation, rents equipment or tack to a participant, or instructs them or rents to them an equine (horse, pony, mule, donkey, or hinny) for the purpose of riding, driving, or being a passenger upon the equine) must post and maintain a “warning” sign in a clearly visible location on or near the stable, arena, or corral where they conduct equine activities (as defined by the Act in Tenn. Code Ann. §44-20-102(3)) if they own, manage, or control those areas.  The sign must contain the following in black letters that are a minimum of one inch high:

Under Tennessee 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 Tennessee Code Annotated, title 44, chapter 20.
These signs can be purchased at local tack stores or ordered online.
This “warning” must also be included in certain contracts entered into by equine professionals.  
Along with the “warning” language, it is important to consider what else should be included in equine activity contracts.    
Points to Consider in Drafting Contracts Related to Equine Activities
Each situation requiring a contract is different.  However, it is important to put into writing any agreement involving equine activities so that the parties know exactly what the agreement is.  A person may need a contract related to boarding, training, leasing a horse, purchasing a horse, or inspecting a horse prior to purchase.  Although there are many different types of contracts, there are certain points that you should pay attention to in drafting a contract in order to protect all parties involved.  Taking the time to carefully draft a contract on the front end can help avoid many problems down the road.
First of all, a contract should clearly identify all parties involved, and each party should sign and date the contract.  Each party should consider what is important to them to be included in the contract and also consider what problems might arise so that everything will be spelled out in the contract.    
It is important to identify and describe in detail the horse (or other equine) involved in the contract.  Include not only the horse’s name, but also specific details of the horse’s breed, color, markings, scars, etc.  This could be particularly important in a sales contract if the seller attempts to fraudulently sell you one horse only to deliver a different one.  The buyer would have proof of the correct horse with a detailed contract identifying the horse.  You could also attach to the contract a photo of the horse and any identifying markings.        
In boarding contracts, one might want to provide for a turnout or feeding schedule.  If a horse needs medication, the boarding facility may or may not provide this service at an additional fee, and this should be included in the contract.  If the maintenance of a specific vaccination or shoeing schedule is required, then state this in the contract, as well as who is responsible for paying for these services.  If there are specific rules that the boarding facility wishes to enforce, such as a boarder inviting friends to the facility, then these rules should be identified so that there is no later misunderstanding if an issue arises.
If the contract deals with an equine activity for a certain length of time, it is important to identify the time frame involved.  For example, if a horse owner allows a prospective purchaser to take the horse off property to inspect and ride for a trial period, then state that specific time period in the contract.  If there is a training contract and the horse owner expects the horse to be ridden and trained for a specific number of days each week, state this in the contract.     
If fees or payments are involved, include the exact fee arrangement in the contract.  If the equine activity involves a periodic fee schedule, it is important to state the exact fee schedule that must be followed to avoid possible confusion.
Because problems may arise and a person may breach the contract, it is important to include certain provisions if a lawsuit must be filed.  For example, you may wish to include a provision that requires the person who breaches the contract to pay the reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs of the person who had to file the lawsuit. 
While these are only general aspects that are important to consider when drafting a contract, each situation is different.  Although common contracts related to equine activities might be found in books or on the internet, it is important to address the specific circumstances involved, whether this means drafting a contract on your own or having an attorney draft the contract. 
This information is not intended to offer legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.
Melanie R. Dunlap is an attorney in Memphis, Tennessee practicing equine law, general civil litigation, business litigation, medical malpractice, and domestic relations with Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh, PLLC. (901) 525-1455.

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