Nearly 22 years as a busy attorney have given me extensive experience representing boarding stables in lawsuits. I have learned that stables, regardless of their geography and size, seem to find themselves targeted with similar disputes and lawsuits. And many of them are preventable.
This article addresses three common types of lawsuits involving boarding stables and offers suggestions to help stables avoid problems in the future.
Dispute 1: The boarded horse is injured (or worse) at the stable, and the horse’s owner sues.
I have handled a few cases where this happened. In one, a horse was kicked in the leg by a pasture mate and had to be euthanized. In another case, a kick in the pasture rendered a horse too lame to compete in dressage events. Another lawsuit involved the stable arranging for a broodmare to be palpated before breeding, but the veterinarian who performed the procedure accidentally tore her, and she was later euthanized.
Stable managers have a few options to protect themselves against these risks:
1. Use well-worded liability releases (where allowed by law) pertaining to the horse. In one of my cases, a large boarding stable was sued by a boarder whose horse was attacked in the pasture and injured. The stable had no way of knowing of the incident, and the cuts were beneath the horse’s blanket. Because of the release included in the stable’s boarding contract, we quickly had the case dismissed.
Stables should not assume that the same release form that is designed to protect the stable against claims from injured people will apply to a claim involving an injured horse. Make sure the language accomplishes what you seek.
2. Buy insurance. The standard commercial liability policy is not designed to protect a stable against claims for injury to, or loss of, a boarded horse. In fact, liability insurance policies often have “care, custody, or control” exclusions. Stables seeking protection against claims from customers asserting that their horses received negligent care usually need to purchase a care, custody, and control insurance endorsement (sometimes called a “bailees liability insurance” endorsement).
3. Make sure your boarding contracts specify the services you will provide. In a lawsuit I defended, the horse owner claimed that the stable wrongly pastured her horse in a group instead of an individual paddock. Although the stable manager insisted that the owner was agreeable to a group pasture and the horse had been turned out with a group for days, nowhere did the boarding contract specify that the horse was to receive group pasture turnout.
Dispute 2: Customers fail to pay their boarding fees, forcing the stable to file a collection lawsuit.
Even in good economic times, stables encounter the problem of non-paying boarders. Because of today’s poor economy, stables are virtually guaranteed to experience this problem with much greater frequency. The sheer inevitability of a non-paying boarder is reason enough for stables to plan ahead and maximize their chances for a good result. Here are some ideas:
1. Include interest on unpaid balances in your boarding contract. State laws differ on the maximum rate of interest businesses can charge.