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Barn management and liability

From: Rhetta

I have just read your excellent advice about barn management practices. You mentioned that the management/owners are liable for the anything that happens to the horses under their care. Is that still true if the barn is located in one of the states ehich have a law stating that horse professionals are not liable? That may be a totally different type of liability. I know that the law applies, primarily at least, to personal and property damage caused by a horse on their place; does it also apply to damage caused to the horse?

Also I was told recently by someone who used to own/run a competition barn, that the company which insures a horse may not pay a claim if the horse is injured or killed because of barn management practices (e.g., in the case in question, if a horse lost an eye by getting hit with a rock) since the horse owner is responsible for providing adequate care for the insured horse. Is that true for cases like this hypothetical one?

Thank you so much for your excellent website and newsletter. I loved Riding for the Rest of Us & am learning so much from you. You are a wonderful resource and I am so gladd to have access to your advice.

Sincerely, Rhetta

Hi Rhetta! Thanks for the kind words, I'm glad I've been helpful to you. You raise an interesting question here. There are a lot of misunderstandings in the horse world, and one of the big ones at the moment is based on this very question of liability.

No matter what state you are in or what the specific wording of its liability release, professionals are NOT immune from lawsuits nor are they guaranteed "not liable" for accidents or injuries resulting from their negligence. The equine liability laws will probably apply if someone was injured while taking part in an "equine activity". But there are exceptions, and other factors do come into the picture. "Assumption of risk" is one such factor. If anything happens to you, I suggest that you contact a lawyer who specializes in equine law. "Negligence" isn't an absolute, either. There's contributory negligence, strict negligence, even "comparative negligence".

Are you confused yet? ;-)

In your hypothetical case, where a horse loses an eye because of bad barn management practices (rock-throwing), the horse-owner would (hypotheticallY) sue the barn owner, who would then (hypotheticallY) claim that either (a) rock-throwing is an ordinary, accepted horse management practice, or that (b) the horse's owner knew about the rock-throwing and let the horse stay at that barn anyway, thus accepting any possible consequences... meanwhile, the horse-owner's insurance company would (hypothetically) go after the barn-owner's insurance company, which would (hypothetically) then deny coverage because of unacceptable horse-management practices. It would be a long, nasty, confusing, and expensive tangle -- and I could be wrong -- remember, this is ALL hypothetical. But the horse would still be missing an eye, and nothing, hypothetical or otherwise, could restore it.

For you, and for anyone else interested in equine law -- and we ALL should be interested in equine law! -- I can strongly recommend a book. It's called "Equine Law and Horse Sense" (no, there's no connection with me, but I'd be proud if there were such a connection). The author is Julie Fershtman, who is an attorney specializing in equine law. She's very, very good at explaining law in layman's terms, and I can tell you that if I am ever in need of legal help or advice for anything to do with horses and equine law, I will consult Julie immediately.

If you don't find her book at the tack shop or the local bookstores, you can purchase it directly from Julie at

Horses & The Law Publishing,

PO Box 250696,

Franklin, MI 48025-0696

Telephone: (810) 644-8645

It's well worth owning -- and if you ever need a speaker for an event, Julie's good at that too!


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