A Whodunit

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I recently had an episode where a horse tried to jump a 3-foot gate to get into a field with other horses. Luckily the horse was not injured, as the gate gave way and bent almost in half when her hind legs went over it and she received nothing more than some good scrapes. I called the boarders immediately and told them of the issue.At that point, I also relayed to them that they would be responsible for the damage to the gate (it is written in our boarding contract that boarders must pay damages for anything their horse destroys). We charged them $40 to replace the gate. We had an extra one on the property, but spent almost 45 minutes in installation because of other problems that arose (as always happens) with the new gate, such as old bolts, new fence posts, etc.When I received the board check back from the boarder they asked to be informed of any damages in the future so that they could have the opportunity to fix or repair the damages prior to any charges being applied. In my opinion, these individuals are not farm-oriented and I also wonder about liability. What if they don’t fix the gate properly and it causes damage to another horse? Am I right in this?

First off, I want to compliment you on thinking through your boarding contract before this happened. As I presume you’re aware, without the boarding contract, not only would your boarder not have to pay for repairing the gate, but also you would have been liable for the damages to their horse!

Back to this case, have you ever noticed those signs in auto repair shops that say that no one is allowed beyond a certain point because of their insurance company? You can use the same approach. Tell them that either your insurance company or your attorney (or both) won’t allow them to do the work themselves. I can guarantee that neither of them will allow it.

To give you an idea of how ridiculous their request is, imagine that you’re driving to the grocery store, and mistake the gas pedal for the brake, taking out one of the plate glass windows of the store. Your uncle can get you a cheap sheet of glass to replace the window, and replacing a pane of glass isn’t that hard. Do you think the store owner would let you replace it yourself? Not likely.

Now that I’ve pretty much answered your question, let me explain the legal reasoning behind it. You’re right to be concerned about the legal liability if your boarder becomes injured while repairing the gate. You would have a legal obligation to make sure that they are safe, and the problem with doing repairs is that you usually are using dangerous equipment like saws and hammers. Especially if the person isn’t handy, their chance of being injured is statistically significant. This is the reason why insurance companies don’t allow people to wander around garages (or farms).

As the landowner, you have the legal obligation to protect your guests from injury. As a business, you have an even higher requirement to protect your business invitees than if you were just inviting some friends over to help out in fixing the property. This all goes back to the basic requirement for negligence: That there is 1) either a duty to protect or a duty to not cause harm in which 2) an act caused 3) an injury that resulted in the injured person being 4) financially harmed (i.e., damages). If parts 2, 3, and 4 apply, a jury isn’t going to have any problems finding that you have a duty to protect your customers. And parts 2, 3, and 4 definitely apply when someone nails their thumb with a hammer and has to miss work because of their pain and injury.

One additional problem with this situation is what, if any, insurance would cover the accident. Normally, workers’ compensation covers workers that are injured at your stable. That’s because normally workers are going to be your employees. Other workers are employed by contractors and are covered by their employer’s workers’ compensation. This leaves you with an unusual situation in which the worker is not covered by anyone’s workers’ compensation coverage. That would leave your liability coverage, which frequently expressly provides that workers are not covered. The net result could well be that you would end up with no insurance coverage in this situation.

The other issue is that you are responsible for all repairs on your property. If the repair is made, but someone else is injured because the repair was not done properly, you incur the liability. You would have to prove that the person who made the repair was qualified to do so. And, it is up to you, as the property owner, to visually inspect the repair for any obvious defects.

At the end of the day, you are responsible for any repairs made to your property. Don’t expose yourself to the risk of your client getting hurt making the repair or someone else getting hurt because of a bad repair.