Check Your Liability Coverage — Even If You`re Not In The Business

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It may be time for you to consider liability insurance:

• The owners of a two-year-old colt were sued when a 10-year-old boy was bitten by the horse, who was in his own paddock.

• A property owner was sued by a man moving two horses from one pasture to another. The automatic gate accidentally closed on one of the two horses, causing one of the horses to spook and hurt the handler.

• A 16-year-old girl was trying a horse. When she mounted, the horse was startled by a car, and she was injured when she was thrown. Thousands of dollars were awarded her in damages.

• A man was injured on the grounds of a horse show by a loose horse. The injured man’s lawyer sued everyone — the show organizers, the owner of the loose horse, and the trainer of the loose horse. He also sued the boarding stable that fed the horse that morning before the horse was hauled away to the show grounds.

This last case may have been an extreme situation, said Julie Fershtman, the experienced equine attorney who handled the case, but the reality is that lawyers tend to sue virtually everyone having any connection to an incident where someone was hurt, forcing people to fight to extricate themselves from the case. Even in the case of frivolous claims, defense costs can be enormous in the absence of insurance coverage.

Lance Allen, the president of Agri-Risk, says that trainers and owners alike are growing more aware that the increasingly litigious nature of our society requires liability insurance coverage to protect their assets.

Types Of Coverage
Some states have taken action by writing equine activity statutes. Typically, the law requires that some of the statute’s language be posted. That language — which usually says that an equine professional is not responsible for the ”inherent risks” involved in riding — is printed on a sign. If the barn owner does not have this sign up, the statute may not protect her in case of a lawsuit. Your local feed or tack store should carry the signs for your state. Remember, though, not all states have statutes in place. Check with your lawmakers.

But just having the sign will not entirely protect you. Some things don’t count as inherent risks, such as faulty equipment, or giving an inexperienced rider a green horse. Even neglecting to warn a rider about a known obstacle on your land could fall outside the statute. If you’re a riding instructor, the statute will not protect you if you improperly assign a horse, which would mean you could be considered negligent.

If you do any kind of equine work, you need commercial liability insurance to cover yourself in case you are found negligent. Your equine-related services are a commodity, which makes you a commercial operation.

Commercial liability will cover you if someone sues you when they are injured during a lesson, or when something happens to their property, like a car getting dented by a runaway horse.

Care, custody, and control insurance will protect you if you have other people’s horses in your care, custody, or control. If you run a boarding stable, take broodmares in to be bred or horses in for training, this is what you need. Then, if anything happens to these horses and a court finds you negligent, you will have insurance to cover the medical bills or the cost of a new horse. So if someone else’s broodmare gets tangled in wire and hurt while waiting to be bred to your stallion, you will be covered. (You will need another policy for your own animals, though.)

Horse-hauler liability is only for people transporting horses for profit, not for equine professionals who are just hauling horses for their clients to the clinic or a horse show. If you do trailering for your clients, you can get incidental transit coverage under your care, custody and control policy, but you likely don’t need a hauler’s policy.

Personal liability coverage is for any horse owner who isn’t an equine professional. Let’s say your horse gets loose one day and races through your neighbor’s yard, tearing down a fence and ruining a prized garden in the process. You could be sued for the value of these possessions. Personal liability will protect you.

It’s not a bad idea for people who board their horses, either. If your horse kicks a visiting child or dog, even while you’re away from the boarding barn, you could be liable. Check with your boarding stable to find out how extensive their coverage is, because you could be liable for something your horse destroys when you’re not around.

Farm and estate coverage is for your farm, house, and all the tack, tractors, and sheds on the property. Remember that most homeowner’s policies draw the line at covering anything that might be connected with a business. This means that even if you give just a few lessons, your horses could be considered part of your business, so you need commercial liability coverage as well.

Horse show or equestrian event liability is necessary if you (or your group) host a horse show or an event, whether it is at your own farm or not. These policies, which are often short-term, provide coverage for the event, the sponsoring organization, event committee members, officials and event land owners to protect against lawsuits resulting from harm coming to any event employee, volunteer, or spectator. It also protects you from lawsuits brought if horses damage property during the event. Imagine if horses at a benefit trail ride damage crops or other property.

Get An Agent
Your best ally is a well-educated agent. A good agent will recommend the right policy for your needs, whether you run a therapeutic riding center or want to host one benefit show. Because every horse-owning situation is so different, there is no blanket recommendation for liability insurance — except that every horse owner should carry it.

To find an agent, look in the advertising section of any horse publication (except this one). Ask around, because equine insurance agents often specialize in horse areas of the country, and many of them ride. Someone may foxhunt or play polo with a local agent who understands your situation. The agent does not even need to be local, however. As long as she’s licensed in your state, and you find her accessible by phone and/or email, she can help you. Tell your agent your wildest fears — that your sleigh may overturn during a Christmas rental, or your stallion may nip a visiting broodmare owner during a farm tour — and she will tell you how you can best to protect yourself.

Bottom Line
We can’t tell you exactly which coverage you need for your situation nor what the limit on the policy needs to be. Your agent can help you with that, if you honestly explain what you do and how you’re making your living with your horse. Don’t assume your homeowner’s or an umbrella policy will cover your horse activities. And, even if you win your case, you could be faced with some incredible legal bills.

For more information:

Check out the University of Texas website at http://utopia.utexas.edu/, and you will find recent cases brought against horse owners as well as updates on laws.

Julie Fershtman’s site is at www.fershtmanlaw.com/, 248-851-4111.

For a listing of horse-specific insurers, see our April 2006 issue.