Equine Activity Statutes: What They Do and Don’t Do, and What You Need to Do
Equine Activity Statutes : What They Do & Don’t Do
Equine Activity – Activity Statutes
By: Robert O. Dawson
Proffesor of Law, University of Texas, School of Law
What Is an Equine Activity Statute?
As of May 2016, 47 states – all but California, Maryland, and New York – have passed some form of an Equine Activity Liability Act (“EALA”).
These laws often share common characteristics, but all of them differ.An equine activity statute is a law designed to limit liability for injuries and deaths connected with horse-related activities. The principle of equine activity statutes is a long-standing legal doctrine, “assumption of the risk.” A person assumes the risk of participating in an activity if they have full knowledge of the risks involved and decide to participate anyway. Assumption of the risk is often a successful legal defense in horse accident cases, even in states without equine activity statutes.
As of May 2016, 47 states – all but California, Maryland, and New York – have passed some form of an Equine Activity Liability Act (“EALA”). These laws often share common characteristics, but all of them differ.
Not only is the statute a useful ally in defending a lawsuit, but it may deter the filing of one as well. If an injured person contacts a lawyer about suing, that attorney will want to know three things: (1) how serious (expensive) is the injury, (2) how clear is the liability of the other person for the injury, and (3) is there a source of money to pay the judgment if the lawsuit is brought and won. An equine activity statute can tip the scales in (2) in a close case and cause a lawyer not to bring a suit that otherwise would be filed, because if the lawyer looses on (2) not only does he not receive his fees, but his office may lose many dollars in time and out-of-pocket expenses in bringing the suit.
While the exact language in each statute varies somewhat from state to state, the core of the provisions is the same. Because these statues were all enacted within only the last few years, it is too early to know exactly whether the courts will interpret them broadly or narrowly.
Equine Activity Statute: The Definitions
The “activity” in equine activity is broadly defined to include horse shows, fairs, competitions, performances, or parades, including all breeds and all disciplines, such as dressage, hunter and jumper shows, grand prix jumping, three-day events, combined training, rodeos, driving, pulling, cutting, polo, steeple chasing, English and western performance riding, endurance trail riding, western pleasure, hunting, training, teaching, boarding horses, riding, inspecting or evaluating a horse belonging to another, horse shoeing, rides, trips, hunts or other activities of any type however informal or impromptu, that are sponsored by an equine sponsor.
An equine sponsor is an individual or group, whether non-profit or for profit, that provides facilities for, organizes, or sponsors equine activities. An equine professional is a person engaged in an equine activity for compensation.
“Engages in an equine activity” is defined to include almost any kind of activities on or about horses, including riding, training, assisting in medical treatment of horses, driving or being a passenger on a horse, or assisting a participant in a horse show or assisting show management, but does not include merely being a spectator to an equine activity.
In short, just about anybody involved in teaching riding in a stable or camp, in training or renting horses, conducting trail rides, or in putting together a horse event is covered by these statutes.
Inherent Risks of Equine Activities
The key feature of these statutes is that an equine sponsor or professional is not liable for an injury that is the result of an “inherent risk of equine activities.” These risks are usually defined by statute to include
(1) the propensity of horses to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around them;
(2) the unpredictability of a horse’s reaction to such things as sounds, sudden movement, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals;
(3) certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions;
(4) collisions with other horses or objects;
(5) the potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the animal or not acting within his or her ability.
What the legislatures are saying is that these risks are always present when a person is on or near a horse and that by being on a horse or near a horse, persons are assuming those risks. If the injury is the result of an inherent equine activity risk, a lawsuit cannot be brought successfully by the injured person.
Things that are not Inherent Risks:
Legislatures have also defined certain circumstances that are not within the inherent risks of equine activities. These include:
(1) providing equipment or tack when one knew or should have know it was faulty and the faulty equipment or tack was totally or partially responsible for the accident;
(2) providing the horse while one failed to make reasonable efforts to determine the ability of the rider to manage the particular horse based upon the rider’s statements about experience and ability;
(3) owning or leasing land upon which there was a hidden danger, which was known to the owner or lessee, but who failed to warn the participant and the danger caused the accident; or
(4) intentionally or with gross negligence injuring the other person.
What the legislatures have done is to define what is and what is not an inherent risk in equine activities and to protect the horse professional or organization from liability for an injury that occurred when such a risk materializes.
Posting/Notice Requirements: (Equine Activity Statutes)
Almost two-thirds of the states with equine activity statutes require that certain language be added to contracts or be posted on the property, or both. Failure to add the exact language to contracts or post exactly the words in the statute means that the statute cannot be used in defense in a lawsuit.
It is, therefore, important to know (1) whether your state has an equine activity statute and (2) if so what notice and posting requirements, if any, there are in that state. Compliance with notice and posting requirements are virtually free. Coming within the protection the statute in your state could make all the difference in the world in defending a lawsuit.
What states have Equine Activity Statutes:
You can determine whether your state has an Equine Activity Statute. You can also determine whether you are required to post notices or include particular language in your contracts or release forms.
The Equine Statute Bottom Line:
If you live in a state that has an equine activity statute:
Don’t assume your state’s equine activity statute covers you and what you are doing. Make sure you read and understand the full text of the statute. If you aren’t sure, ask an equine attorney practicing in your state.
Check to see if your state’s equine activity statute requires posted warning signs (and if it does, put them up).
Don’t hope that someone else’s liability release form will protect you. Have an equine attorney review your contracts, releases, show entry forms and other horse-related documents to make sure that they include any required language (and will otherwise protect you).
Make sure that your existing insurance covers all of your horse related activities and that the limits of your coverage are high enough to provide adequate protection for you. Familiarize yourself with your policy terms, especially the exclusions and the claims process.