Risk management for horse owners is a topic that, at least among my circle of friends, is rarely discussed. Yet, its importance can’t be overlooked. To some degree we all practice it but how many of us have a specific risk management program in place? Areas covered by risk management strategies can deal with property, facilities, equipment, and animals among others. In this week’s blog post we’ll talk about the horses lightly touching on property and facilities.
Horses present several liability concerns. Among them are:
1.) Visitors to your property. Do not allow visitors to your property to be near animals without your supervision or permission. In addition to verbally informing your visitors, signs should be posted informing them of this requirement.
2.) Dangerous vices. If you have horses on your property that are known to have a dangerous vice such as biting or kicking you should verbally inform and place signs clearly indicating these animals.
3.) Odd habits. Communicate to those working with or near your horses about any odd habits that may place their rider or handler in danger should they unexpectedly react.
4.) Horse handling practices. Make certain that you model proper horse handling practices.
5.) Rules for behavior are not common knowledge. Post and enforce rules for correct behavior around horses.
6.) Tack wear and tear. Inspect your tack and any other equipment you will be using before each use.
7.) Safety helmets. Enforce the use of approved safety helmets at all times when mounted.
8.) Cluttered vs. Clean work areas. Insist on a clean work area.
9.) Dogs. Appropriately restrain dogs during mounted activities.
10.) Vital records. Safeguard the vital records of the animals in your care in addition to the contact information for owners and other members of their caregiver team such as veterinarians and farriers.
11.) Chain of command. Have a chain of command for who will be contacted and what needs to take place in times of emergency including what needs to happen pre and post-emergency.
In a recent interview discussing potential equine related liability issues with Keith Davis, an attorney with the law firm of Austin, Davis, and Mitchell in Dunlap, TN, he advised that, “The legislatures in many states have specifically acknowledged that persons who participate in equine activities may incur injuries as a result of the risks involved in such activities but they also recognized the numerous economic and personal benefits associated with equine activities.”
Regarding fencing, Mr. Davis advised that some states have enacted statutes regarding fencing and within those statues there are designations on what constitutes a sufficient and lawful fence. He went on to state that if a horse owner’s fence meets the sufficient and lawful requirements that, in order to protect themselves from issues with liability should the horse escape, they should “maintain the fencing in a condition suitable to enclose horses. Even if the fencing technically meets the requirements set out in a particular state’s statutes, the landowner may face serious liability if he/she fails to ensure that the fencing will keep horses from running free.” Though it is every horse owner’s nightmare, if a horse owner has maintained a lawful fence in most cases they will not be held liable if an animal strayed onto the highway or caused damages to the personal property of others including: cars, fencing, yards/land, and buildings, or caused an accident which physically harmed a person.
In the event of the unexpectedly loose or escaped horse, Mr. Davis made the following suggestions to protect against liability:
1.) Make photographs, showing for example, that the fencing meets established requirements.
2.) Make photographs of any posted warning signs.
3.) Collect contact information of any witnesses.
Most horse property owners are well aware of equine liability signs having seen them at boarding barns or other equine facilities, perhaps even having them hanging outside our own barns. Contrary to popular belief purchasing and displaying these signs can be invaluable and do provide some immunity from liability in certain situations. According to Mr. Davis immunity is not provided in the following situations:
1.) “when the owner provided the tack or equipment and either knew or should have known that the equipment/tack was faulty and the faulty condition of the equipment/tack caused injury;
2.) when the owner provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant to safely engage in the equine activity and determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine based on the participant’s representations of his/her ability;
3.) the owner owns, leases, rents, or is otherwise in lawful possession of the land or facilities upon which the participant sustained injuries because of a dangerous latent condition that was known to the owner and for which warning signs had not been conspicuously posted;
4.) the owner commits an act or omission which constitutes a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant and the act or omission caused injury; or
5.) the owner intentionally injures the participant.”
Liability is a huge concern for horse owners and managing the risks associated with equine ownership is a complex subject covering many areas. It’s always a good idea to have a risk management plan in place and to follow it in order to prevent opening oneself up to liability.
*Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice on the part of myself or Mr. Davis.