By Julie Fershtman
“Can I borrow your horse?” We hear this question from friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and relatives. When we answer “yes,” what usually follows is a fun and pleasurable experience. Sometimes, however, the opposite holds true, someone is hurt, and a lawsuit follows.
This article briefly discusses why people sue others who lend out horses and offers some suggestions for horse owners to try to protect themselves.
Why could you be at risk when you lend out your horse to a friend? The answer is simple: As the horse’s owner, you are the prime target if the horse should injure your friend or if the horse injures someone else while your friend is using it. Examples could include:
Whether or not the horse owner really should be sued is not the issue. The fact is, injured people will sometimes blame (and sue) everyone having any connection to the horse or the accident.
As of April 2013, 46 states have passed laws that, in some way, are designed to limit or control liabilities in certain equine related activities. All of these laws differ, but many share common characteristics. When lawsuits are brought involving an equine activity liability act, a common provision under many statutes is the exception that applies to horse owners or equine professionals who “provide the equine and fail to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely 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 or her ability.” Whether the horse owner eventually wins or loses depend on the facts and the applicable law.
To reduce their risks of legal or financial liability, horse owners can do several things such as:
Liability insurance. Insurance policies can protect horse owners from claims that might be brought against them involving the actions of their horses. Policies include, for example, Commercial General Liability Insurance or Equine Professional Liability Insurance for equine professionals, and Personal Horse Owner's Liability Insurance (some insurers call it “Private Horse Owner’s Liability Insurance”). Homeowner’s liability insurance policies may or may not protect the average horse owner who lends out a horse. Discuss your coverage with a knowledgeable insurance agent, and make sure you are properly protected.
Liability Waivers/Releases. In most states, well-written liability releases can be powerful and enforceable, if they are properly drafted and signed. People who sign releases can, and occasionally do, file lawsuits so remember that having a liability release is not a substitute for liability insurance.
Informed Decisions. As you match your horses with people who ask to use them, keep in mind your horses’ histories, dispositions, and training as well as the ages and experience levels of the people who want to handle or ride them.
This blog post is not meant to suggest that people should not lend out their horses to others. Rather, it is designed to make people aware that these actions can sometimes carry consequences and to help people prepare for them.
This article does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to an attorney.
Julie Fershtman is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 200 published articles, three books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 28 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance.
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