Equine Liability: Family and Friends Who 'Just Watch'

You owe your licensee/guests a “moderate duty of care” for their safety. This is defined as a duty to warn of any dangerous conditions known to the owner of the property, but potentially unknown to the licensee/guest.
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spectators watching horse riding chairs

Equine activity liability act statutes don’t limit liability for spectator injuries. Thus guests who are “just watching” are not prevented by statute from suing you for injury.

Friends and family on your property “just to watch” your riding activities are legally defined as “licensees.” They are present by invitation and with permission, but not for a business purpose. You owe your licensee/guests a “moderate duty of care” for their safety. This is defined as a duty to warn of any dangerous conditions known to the owner of the property, but potentially unknown to the licensee/guest.

A guest might not be aware of the risks posed by livestock, land or buildings. Thus, the property owner should consider using a simple liability waiver that briefly reminds guests they are on a farm, around animals whose natural behavior creates risk of injury, combined with land, buildings, machinery, equipment, livestock and elements of nature—including weather—that also pose risks. The waiver alerts guests to those risks and their need to be alert.

Make sure you are posting your state's Equine Activity Liability Act (EALA) warning signs as required by your state. These signs warn guests about the inherent risks of equine behavior. But realize the EALA statutes don’t limit liability for spectator injuries. Thus guests who are “just watching” are not prevented by statute from suing you for injury.

You’ll want to designate well-defined areas where guests and spectators can safely watch activities from a distance. If they leave those areas, post additional customized warning signs that note the guests have entered an equine activity area and are now a “participant,” and that they accept the risk of injury or death. The signs alert people to the need to pay attention!

Finally, pay special attention to protecting your "Little Spectators." Let parents know they must keep their children close and supervised at all times or severe injury or death could result. It is not your job to be the baby sitter, but it is your job to remind the parents to stay alert as to their children’s activities while on your property.

For more information contact Denise Farris, Perry& Trent, LLC. 13100 Kansas Avenue, Suite C, Bonner Springs, KS. Ph: 913-441-3411; denise@perrytrent.com.

This article provides general coverage of its subject area. It is provided free, with the understanding that the author, publisher and/or publication does not intend this article to be viewed as rendering legal advice or service. If legal advice is sought or required, the services of a competent professional in your state should be sought. The publisher and editor shall not be responsible for any damages resulting from any error, inaccuracy or omission contained in this publication.