Many states, including Oregon, require that horse facilities have posted signs outlining the state's equine activity statute.
Photo: Michelle Anderson
In the equine context, warning signs can serve several important functions, including preventing injury or death, fulfilling a legal duty to warn potential victims about danger, keeping unauthorized personnel out of restricted areas, and fulfilling the requirements of a state equine activity statute. Here are some guidelines.
When to Post Warning Signs
Your State’s Equine Activity Statute Requires It. As of April 2014, all U.S. states except California, Maryland, New York, and Nevada have
"equine activity statutes" designed to limit liability for horse-related activities. Some equine activity statutes require horse facilities to post warning signs on the property that meet very specific requirements and include exact wording. Unless horse facilities in those states post the signage exactly as the statute requires, the statute won’t protect them.
- You Have a Dangerous Horse.
If you have a horse that bites, kicks or has another dangerous habit, you should post a prominent warning sign at each entrance to his/her stall or enclosure. A sign that says “Danger” isn’t sufficient warning – the sign needs to inform the reader about what the nature of the danger is, e.g., “Horse bites.”
You Have a Dog that Bites.
If you have a dog that bites, you should post a prominent warning sign at each entrance to your property. If the dog is in a kennel or other enclosure, you should post a warning sign at each entrance to the enclosure. If the dog is in your house, you should post a warning sign at each door. Again, the warning sign needs to inform potential victims about what the exact nature of the danger is – e.g., “Beware of Attack Dog.”
There is a Dangerous Condition on Your Property.
Dangerous property conditions can be permanent, such as abandoned mine shafts, or temporary, such as construction or blasting. Either way, the property owner (or tenant) should post prominent signs warning potential victims of the danger. Again, the signs should say exactly what the danger is, e.g., “High oltage.” While certainly better than nothing at all, “caution tape” is insufficient on its own because it doesn’t tell potential victims what the danger is.
- You Need to Restrict Access. If you have people come onto your property to do business with you, you have a legal duty to keep those people safe from harm. However, your legal duty to your customers is much lower if they are somewhere they are clearly not supposed to be. For that reason, you should clearly mark the areas of your property that are off limits to customers. For example, if you operate a feed store, you should post a sign stating “Authorized personnel only” on each entrance to your loading dock.
About Warning Signs
Warning signs won’t do any good if the potential victims can’t see them and read them. When it comes to warning signs, bigger is better – the sign should stand out from its surroundings. Also, the font size should be big enough that an average person with decent eyesight can read the sign from at least a few feet away.
Location, Location, Location.
Warning signs won’t do any good if the potential victims don’t see them. They should be posted in areas that are brightly lit and hard to miss.
Cute is Not King.
Signs that are more cute than informative are not sufficient. For example, a “Don’t Feed Fingers to the Horses” sign on the stall door of a horse that bites wouldn’t inform potential victims that this particular horse is likely to bite.
Illustrate the Danger.
Especially in areas where not everyone speaks English as his or her first language, it is very helpful to post signs with both warning language and a graphic showing the danger. For example, a sign reading “Warning: Attack Dog” delivers a more effective warning when it includes a graphic showing a dog with bared teeth.
Where to Find Warning Signs
Equine Activity Statute Signs.
Larger feed stores often carry ready-made equine activity statute warning signs. You can also order them from many online equine retailers.
Other Warning Signs.
Hardware stores and home improvement centers typically carry a wide variety of warning signs, including “beware of dog” signs. Chain office supply stores often stock “Authorized personnel only” signs.
Finally, copy centers and online printing companies offer custom signage options at reasonable prices.
When in doubt, post it: Warning signs are very inexpensive compared to the cost of defending a lawsuit!
About the Author
Rachel Kosmal McCart is the founder and principal attorney of Equine Legal Solutions, PC (ELS), an equine law firm based near Portland, Ore. McCart is a graduate of the Duke University School of Law and licensed to practice in four states: California, New York, Oregon, and Washington. She is also admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. ELS represents clients in litigation, helps resolve equine disputes, drafts customized equine contracts, represents clients in horse industry disciplinary hearings, and incorporates equine businesses. Learn more at www.equinelegalsolutions.com.