Equine Law: Get to Know the Basics
Equine or Horse Law covers all activities dealing with horses, horse welfare, equestrian sports, recreational use of horses, riders and rider safety. Federal, state and local laws govern this area of practice.
Several states including Ohio have enacted statutes to protect horsemen, camps, stables, and other horse providers. These statutes are designed to protect providers from frivolous lawsuits arising out of horse accidents that could not have been avoided. These statutes also protect riders from negligence on part of providers or stables.
The statutes usually stipulate that a person may not sue if the accident resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities. They also spell out what risks – such as providing defective tack or failing appropriately to match horse with rider – are not inherent and therefore fair game for a lawsuit.
In addition to maintaining an equine liability policy, using a well written and properly executed liability release is essential if you want to protect yourself and your business. Ohio will enforce liability waivers and releases if they are properly worded, executed and comply with state law and equine statutes. Even if a release does not result in dismissal of a lawsuit it can function as a powerful defense in litigation. Never use a generic release without customizing it to your unique operations and exposures. It is always advisable to consult with your attorney.
Almost all equine facilities now use some form of liability release with clients and visitors. As a general matter the consequences of an accident should fall upon the person injured and only in extraordinary circumstances can those consequences be shifted to another. If an injury is the fault of the rider or a simple accident where nobody is negligent, the injured person must suffer the outcome alone.
If an injury is wholly or partly the fault of the stable owner or trainer then the injured person can sue you, the stable, and the insurer for money to compensate for the injuries. The grounds for the suit may be using unsafe teaching procedures, or teaching a lesson in an unsafe environment or using a lesson horse which you knew has unsafe habits. That is when a well written liability release and waiver is essential.
If you work in the equestrian industry, then make sure to always consult a lawyer on the best way to protect yourself, your business and your clients.