In the horse industry, rumors and myths abound regarding important legal issues. This three-part series of articles explores some common myths in the horse industry. Part one discusses the equine liability acts, part two will discuss insurance, and part three will discuss releases of liability.
Which States Now Have Equine Activity Liability Laws?
Theses states have passed equine liability laws (as of January, 1997): Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. All of the laws differ, but many share common characteristics.
What are Some of the Common Myths Regarding These Laws?
- Equine Activity Liability Laws are “Zero Liability Laws”
People sometimes boast that their state has passed a “zero liability law.” It is certainly true that many equine liability laws clearly state that equine activity participants cannot bring suit for injury, death, or damage arising from an inherent risk of an equine activity. Unfortunately, the 38 existing equine liability laws are not “zero liability laws,” nor were they designed to permanently end all liability in the horse industry. To their credit, however, many of the equine liability laws can prevent — and, in some states, have already prevented — certain types of lawsuits from succeeding.If you live or do business in one of the 38 states across the country with an equine liability law, read it very carefully and pay special attention to the exceptions. The exceptions could allow a lawsuit to proceed for certain types of things. For example, many of the laws allow someone who was “engaged in an equine activity” to bring suit against a responsible person for the following.
Horse-related equipment caused the participant to be injured, and the equipment’s faults were known, or should have been known, by the equipment provider;
The participant was provided with a horse but the provider somehow failed to make reasonable and diligent efforts to determine whether the participant could safely manage that horse;
Someone owns or rents property with a dangerous latent (non-obvious) condition that has injured the participant in an “equine activity,” and the one connected with the property know or should have known of the dangerous condition but failed to post a noticeable warning sign about it.
Someone intentionally or recklessly causes injury to another person who was engaged in an equine activity
These are just some of the exceptions found within many equine liability laws. A small number of the laws allow an injured party to bring suit under the broad category of “negligence” (this legal term has been explained in prior articles by this author and in her book, Equine Law & Horse Sense).
- You Can Cancel Your Equine-Related Liability Insurance if Your State Has Enacted an Equine Activity Liability Law
None of the equine liability laws was designed to end the need for liability insurance. Depending on the nature of your equine-related activities, it helps to make sure that your homeowner’s insurance or your general commercial equine liability insurance will cover you for personal injuries people may suffer while riding or near your horses, or while they engage in horse-related activities under your supervision.
- Posting a “Warning” Sign Required by an Equine Activity Liability Act Provides the Same Benefit as Using a Written Release of Liability
Many equine activity liability laws require people, particularly “equine professionals,” to post “warning” signs. The laws typically provide language for the signs and describe where the signs should be posted. a small number of the laws state that those who fail to post the warning signs or repeat the “warning” language in their contracts will lose any of the laws’ liability limitations.
- While it is very important to comply with “warning” language requirements in the laws, this is not the same as having someone sign a release of liability (also called a “waiver”). Those who post proper warning signs and repeat the warning language in their contracts (if required to do so) may still face liability if an injured person sues under an exception to the equine activity liability law. By comparison, a release of liability, where allowed by law, might ask the signer to release away any right to sue under an exception to an equine liability law.
- Most states across the country have enforced liability releases as long as they were properly worded and signed and otherwise met the legal requirements of the state. Unlike a warning sign (which injured persons sometimes claim they never saw), a release of liability is a written acknowledgment that someone understands the risks of riding or being near horses, agrees to accept the risks, and agrees not to bring suit. Keep in mind that not all states will enforce liability waivers or releases, and there is never an absolute guarantee that a court will enforce your release.
In conclusion, please keep these concepts in mind:
- There is no such thing as a “zero liability law.” The equine liability laws were not designed to permanently end liability in the horse industry.
- Carefully read the equine liability law that applies to you, especially the exceptions that can create liability. The exceptions allow people to, in many instances, foresee and prevent the circumstances that can create liability.
- You can obtain a copy of your state’s equine activity liability law by contacting your state legislator, state horse council, cooperative extension service, or a lawyer.
This article is not intended to constitute legal advice. When matters arise based on specific situations, direct your questions to a knowledgeable attorney.
Julie I. Fershtman, Esq.
About the Author
Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC
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