Liability and Horses (Book Excerpt)

Horses often seem to be accidents waiting to happen. It’s important to shield yourself from liability.

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Horses often seem to be accidents waiting to happen, and everyone who has owned horses for any significant period can recount at least one horror story that starts with: “You aren’t going to believe this, but …” Less apparent, but equally true, is the realization that horse businesses, by their very nature, can be “accident prone.” Agricultural jobs traditionally are among the nation’s most dangerous. Whether horses are your vocation or avocation, it is important to shield yourself from as much potential liability as possible. Failure to do so can be devastating, personally and professionally.

Liability is an extremely broad legal concept, encompassing everything from an obligation to repay a debt to the responsibility everyone has for the consequences of their actions. For someone in the horse business, liability lurks behind every stall door, in every paddock, on every trail, and in every business transaction. When you buy a load of hay on credit, for example, you are incurring a liability, in this case the obligation to pay for the hay at some future point. Such liability, voluntarily assumed, is part of the normal course of doing business and is not the type of liability addressed here.

More troublesome is the potential liability that results when your actions cause harm to a third party. Liability for personal injury can include financial responsibility for medical bills, lost wages, loss of consortium, and punitive damages. Liability for damage to another person’s property generally is limited to the economic value of the property, but that amount can be substantial

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Written by:

Milt Toby was an author and attorney who wrote about horses and legal issues affecting the equine industry for more than 40 years. Former Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association’s Equine Law Section, Toby wrote 10 nonfiction books, including national award winners Dancer’s Image and Noor. You can read more about him at

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