Equine Liability Laws

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You need to know your equine liability statutes and ensure that you are meeting proper standards of care.

Before the 1990s, many equine-related businesses found themselves closing their doors because of escalating costs of insurance. This had significant impacts on the gross domestic product of the equine industry. Since then, with the exception of California, Maryland, Nevada and New York, all other states in the USA have adopted equine activity liability statutes. The intent is to encourage equine-related activities and business while limiting the civil (tort) ability of individuals to sue organizers or sponsors at events if they suffer harm at equine events and activities.

Signs bearing the statute information specific to your state must be posted around the equine activity area and be clearly visible. An example of the wording of an equine activity liability act (EALA) statute is as follows for Colorado:

WARNING: Under Colorado Law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to or the death of a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities, pursuant to section 13-21-119, Colorado Revised Statutes.

The important language resides in what is an “inherent risk”? This concept considers those dangers or conditions, which are an integral part of equine activities, including, but not limited to:

  • The propensity of the animal to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around them;
  • The unpredictability of the animal's reaction to such things as sounds, sudden movement, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals;
  • Certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions;
  • Collisions with other animals or objects;
  • 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 is not considered an inherent risk is any of the following:

  • If a person displays a willful or wanton or intentional disregard for the safety of the participant;
  • If the person fails to make reasonable and prudent efforts in ensuring safety of the participant – as for example, providing the participant with a horse that does not meet their capabilities;
  • If the participant is injured on the land or at a facility due to a dangerous latent condition, which was known to the equine sponsor, professional, or other person;
  • If tack or equipment is provided that is known to be faulty and which causes proximate injury, damage or death to the equine activity participant.

What You Need to Know

Every state is different in what it considers an inherent risk and also who is considered a defined group eligible for protection. It is important for you to reference the statute language for your specific state, which can be found at: http://www.americanequestrian.com/equinelaws.

In addition, consult with an attorney to ensure the correct language is present in all your contracts and releases. Consult with your insurance agent to ensure that you have sufficient limits of coverage and that you understand exclusions and the claim process.