As an equine attorney, I'm often asked to give presentations on equine liability. It's a very broad topic, of course, so I try to tailor it to the audience. Many of the audience members are individual horse owners. Here are some common areas of concern about liability, and some recommendations for how to address those concerns.
What if My Horse Injures Another Person or Another Horse?
Just because a horse injures someone doesn't automatically mean the horse owner will have liability for the injury. The horse owner must be at fault. Common scenarios in which the horse owner might be at fault:
- The horse has a dangerous habit, such as kicking or biting. The horse owner fails to warn of the danger. The horse's dangerous behavior then causes injury to someone unaware of the horse's tendencies.
- The horse owner rides or handles the horse in a way that is negligent. As a result of the negligent riding or handling, the horse then injures someone. For example, a show rider might run over another horse and rider in a crowded warm-up arena because the show rider is on their cell phone and not looking where they are going.
- The horse owner fails to provide adequate fencing or stall door latches, and the horse gets loose. The horse runs out onto the road in an area that is not legally designated as "open range." A passing motorist doesn't see the horse in time to avoid an accident, and the motorist is injured.
The Role of Liability Releases
Liability releases serve two very valuable functions. First and foremost, they discourage people from suing in the first place. They can also provide a viable legal defense and prevent the person suing from winning their case. What they don't do is pay for the cost of your legal defense, and if you lose, the cost of the legal judgment. That's where insurance comes in.
What About Homeowners' Insurance?
Many horse owners are under the impression that if their horse injures someone, their homeowners' insurance will provide coverage. Only when the accident actually happens and they really need coverage do they find out that their insurance may not help them. Most policies have a very small cap on medical expense payouts. Some homeowners' policies will not provide coverage if the horse is not kept at home. Others have specific exclusions for livestock. In many cases, if you lease your horse, that will be considered a commercial use and therefore excluded from your homeowners' insurance. Best to check with your homeowners' insurance agent and read your policy before you actually need the coverage.
Liability Insurance for Individual Horse Owners
There are liability policies specifically for horse owners. These policies are very inexpensive, and can provide coverage and peace of mind. Member benefits for United States Equestrian Federation include a basic horse owner's liability policy, and the cost of a membership is typically less than the cost of buying the policy separately.