SFEA Presents: Your Horse and the Lawyer
The guest speaker for the Shelby Farms Equestrian Alliance (SFEA) meeting held on April 9, 2015 at the Collierville Animal Clinic was equestrian / lawyer specializing in equine law, Ms. Kjirsten Lee. She is a graduate of Michigan State University College of Law, and has nearly 20 years of involvement in the horse industry as an owner, competitor, and trainer. Kjirsten enjoys trail riding her off-track Thoroughbred Gobain, and she competes in dressage and eventing. She is a Pony Club “B” graduate. Ms. Lee has been published in the Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture and Natural Resource Law and is a regular contributor to Horse Nation, an online publication. She also runs her own personal blog.
Kjirsten’s presentation was aimed at helping horse people understand how their equine lifestyle interacts with the law, by making the law accessible and understandable. She gave an overview of state Equine Liability law in Tennessee and Mississippi and gave examples of how other states approach equine liability law. Each state has its own variation on specific wording and stipulations. For example, “a Connecticut court has called horses inherently vicious,” she said, which was shocking to the audience of horse owners. Mississippi lists horses as “livestock” rather than “companion animals.”
Equine liability laws are designed to encourage equine activities by limiting the amount of financial liability associated with them. The reasoning is that equine activities provide many benefits to states, but there are also risks of injury to those involved due to unpredictability of horse behavior. The laws generally provide immunity to equine professionals if an injury occurs. There are exceptions, however, such as, “willful and wanton or intentional disregard for safety of participant.” An example of this is providing faulty equipment or tack which equine professional knew or should have known was faulty, and an injury ensued which was caused by the faulty tack. Another exception is “failure to make reasonable and prudent efforts to ensure safety of the participant.” An example: trail riding or lesson facility providing an unsuitable horse for a rider’s ability. There was much discussion of this topic as quite a number in the audience had encountered the problem of determining a rider’s true experience and abilities when meeting them for the first time.
The third exception for a professional’s liability immunity is the “latent condition of land which was known to the equine professional.” Kjirsten used the example of a foxhole on an eventing cross country course that the owner fails to disclose and horse steps in and injures a leg. She did say, however, that it is common knowledge that horse activities such as trail riding or foxhunting take place over variable terrain that may have ditches and holes, thus the owners are not obligated to mark such obstacles.
Kjirsten described who is protected by the equine liability laws. “We have all seen the signs posted at stables and arenas in Tennessee and Mississippi and other states, warning that an equine professional is not liable under state law for injuries in equine activities because of the inherent risk of horse related activities. This protection is for professionals, i.e., those who are paid to interact with horses. This includes trainers, barn owners, farriers, and veterinarians, among others. Because of the inherent risks of horse activities, participants in horse activities cannot sue an equine professional, but, in some instances, spectators can. Parents of minors can sue, but parents of adults cannot. Liability is limited if a parent signs a liability waver, and both parents do not have to sign. She mentioned that there are some other commonly known inherent factors, such as the fact that stallions are usually more aggressive than geldings or mares. There was chuckling from the audience when Kjirsten joked that chestnut mares might be the exception.
She urged horse owners to consult a knowledgeable insurance agent about adequate liability insurance - for home, farm and auto, particularly if you are the owner of the land where your horses are kept. If you haul someone else’s horse, your auto liability insurance may not cover the other horse. You may need a “rider” on your policy. Likewise, regular home owner’s liability insurance may not protect you in case of horse related activities. When a friend wants to ride your horse, have them sign a liability release form. When people are over as guests and wander over to your barn or pasture, if they are bitten or kicked, then premises liability rules apply. Trespassers are people who are on your property without invitation or permission, and are on the premises for their own purposes or convenience. There is usually no liability for injuries to trespassers. She urged land owners to post no trespassing signs. In some instances the presence of horses on your property may be considered an “attractive nuisance.” If you are boarding horses for a friend, Kjirsten urged that you have adequate insurance, sign a liability release, and have a boarding contract stating terms and responsibilities. Make sure you have adequate fencing and stall latches to prevent the horse getting out on the road, causing an auto crash. Private Horse Owner’s Liability Policies (PHOs) are available and are relatively inexpensive, starting at about $130 a year for $300,000 of coverage, she said. These policies are designed to cover you if you are sued by a third party not a family member. Kjristen recommended that you consult an attorney about your particular situations and to procure liability waver forms.
Kjirsten gave attendees a printed brochure, “What is Equine Law?” with some basic information and resource contacts for additional information. Kjirsten’s blog is www.equineblawg.com and she’s on Twitter @kj07_11_14. For more information about Shelby Farms Equestrian Alliance, visit http://shelbyfarmsequestrianalliance.org/ or on facebook.
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