Being a horse owner, boarder, or rider is an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s not without risk. That’s why it’s critical to understand the risks these activities pose as well as the legal landscape surrounding equine accidents and injuries and who is liable when they occur to a horse or rider.
The key to understanding horse law is familiarizing oneself with the Equine Activity Liability Acts (EALA). However, the laws vary by state, so it’s vital to know the specific protections for horse owners, professionals, and activity sponsors against personal injury lawsuits in a specific area.
Below, we’ll explore the legal rights and responsibilities surrounding equine accident and injury claims, including the specifics of EALAs, the protections and exceptions they offer, and the measures equine owners, professionals, and sponsors take to safeguard themselves against potential lawsuits.
Understanding the Equine Activity Liability Acts
The Equine Activity Liability Acts (EALA) determines the liability of horse owners, sponsors, and professionals in 47 states. These acts are designed to limit liability if a rider suffers an accident while engaging in equine activities and files a personal injury lawsuit. The Acts recognize that equine activities carry inherent risks that are no fault of the professional or sponsor.
In general, when a rider participates in equine activities, they assume certain risks. For example, they generally cannot sue a horse owner, sponsor, or professional for accidents or injuries resulting from:
- The rider’s own negligence.
- The propensity of horses to behave in certain ways (such as bucking off riders or kicking).
- The unpredictable nature of a horse’s reaction to sounds, sudden movements, unfamiliar objects, or other animals, collisions with other animals.
- Accidents resulting from surface or subsurface hazards.
In other words, EALAs help professionals and sponsors maintain their equine-related businesses without the constant threat of crippling lawsuits.
Liability for Accidents and Injuries
The protection granted by the EALAs is not absolute. Exceptions exist for scenarios in which an owner, professional, or sponsor exhibits negligent behavior or deliberate disregard for the participant’s safety.
Examples of this negligence include:
- Employing providing faulty equipment.
- Failing to disclose hazardous conditions on the property.
- Any other willful disregard for human safety, including carelessness or forgetfulness.
In cases like these, horse owners, sponsors, and professionals can be taken to court. But the specifics vary by state, and anyone involved in an equine accident should consult a lawyer.
How Horse Owners, Sponsors, and Professionals Can Protect Their Business
Anyone who provides equine services needs to protect themselves from lawsuits that could shut down their business or cost them their personal assets. The obvious first step is to avoid negligent behavior.
Other ways to protect an equine business include:
- Having equine activity participants sign releases or waivers acknowledging the inherent risk of interacting with horses and agreeing not to sue for personal injury. (However, rider rights will differ by state.)
- Using warning signs to remind riders about the potential dangers of equine activities, and employing clear and concise language to reduce the frequency of injuries and lawsuits.
- Buying liability insurance to cover any legal costs and damages awarded if a lawsuit does come to fruition. This can help protect the future of an equine owner, sponsor, or professional’s business.
Engaging with horses comes with a unique set of legal issues. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the legal framework of a state’s Equine Activity Liability Act (EALA) in one’s home state. This legislation is designed to provide protection from lawsuits to horse owners, professionals, and sponsors. However, these protections are not absolute, so it’s vital to take measures to reduce liability as well as invest in liability insurance.