Four Strategies for Avoiding Liability

We all fear liability--and rightly so. It can mean lawsuits, trials, unpredictable jury verdicts and the potential for serious financial damage. But everyone has the ability to take active measures to avoid liability. Here's how.
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We all fear liability--and rightly so. It can mean lawsuits, trials, unpredictable jury verdicts and the potential for serious financial damage. But everyone has the ability to take active measures to avoid liability. Here's how.

This article explores four practical strategies for avoiding liability.

# 1 - Understand What Causes Liability
Everyone, it seems, offers opinions on liability in the horse industry. Many, for example, call the equine liability laws "zero liability laws." Some say that these laws have permanently ended all liability in the horse industry and have somehow made liability insurance obsolete. These statements are pure fiction; they originate from people who have never seen the law. Those who rely on these statements could learn the hard way that they have been seriously misinformed. Why allow unfounded opinions to steer you wrong on something as important as liability? In a continuing effort to avoid liability, it helps to separate fact from fiction. In this connection, consult with a knowledgeable lawyer. Learn about liability through books, articles, and seminars.

# 2 - Develop Your Own Personal Safety Program
A constant dedication to safety will reduce the risk of injuries and, consequently, liability. Through a series of safety-conscious habits and practices--implemented routinely--you can lessen the risk of liability. Elements to consider for a safety program can include numerous things. Here are two ideas to help get you started:

Regular equipment inspections. If you provide tack or equipment to others, chances are good that you are at risk for liability if the equipment is blamed for causing an injury, and the injured person claims that you knew or should have known about defects in the equipment. Many of the equine liability laws now impose liability under these circumstances. Knowing this risk is a good incentive to stay a step ahead. Regular equipment inspections will help keep your equipment in good condition and avoid liability on this basis.

Train your workers well. As a general rule, a business is liable for the negligent acts its employees commit during the course of their employment. With this in mind, your own dedication to safety is a good start; make sure that all of your workers share it.

# 3 - Don't Be Afraid to Use Liability Releases
Contrary to popular belief, most states across the country have enforced releases of liability (also called waivers) IF they are properly presented and signed. This author has written numerous articles on this subject over the years. Those attempting to control liability would be wise to consider using carefully worded releases of liability. Form contracts found in books and sold in stores are, at best, a starting point; there is no substitute for a release that has been drafted by a knowledgeable attorney. And, of course, remember that having a release is never a substitute for having good insurance.

# 4 - Good Insurance
Certainly, insurance will not prevent liability (although some insurance companies might help you find ways to avoid liability). What insurance will do is help save your home, your savings, and your property in the event that a claim or a lawsuit is brought against you for which the policy applies. At the very least, insurance could spare you the enormous cost of a legal defense.

Julie I. Fershtman is an attorney with a law practice serving the horse industry. In her more than 15 years as a lawyer, she has achieved numerous courtroom victories and has drafted hundreds of contracts. An independent lawyer rating service gives her its highest rating for abilities.