Limitation of Liability

Horses often seem to be accidents waiting to happen, and most horse owners 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”P>Horses often seem to be accidents waiting to happen, and most horse owners can recount at least one ho


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Horses often seem to be accidents waiting to happen, and most horse owners 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, also can be “accident prone.” 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, both personally and professionally.

Liability is an extremely broad legal concept, encompassing everything from an obligation to repay a debt, to the responsibility a person has for the consequences of his or her actions. For someone in the horse business, liability lurks behind every stall door, in every paddock, and in every business transaction. When you buy a load of hay on time, for example, you are incurring a liability, here the obligation to pay for the hay. Such liability, voluntarily assumed, is part of the normal course of doing business, and is not the subject of this article.

More troublesome is liability that results when your actions cause harm to a third party. The sources are endless. If you board horses for other owners, you might be responsible for damages if one of those horses becomes injured while in your care. If you give riding lessons, you might be liable for injuries suffered by one of your riders. If you open your land for trail rides, you might be liable if a horse or rider gets hurt on your property. If you sell a horse, you might have a duty to disclose certain physical conditions of the animal, and you might be liable for damages if you do not do so. If a horse escapes from your property and causes injury to a person, another animal, or someone’s property, you might find yourself responsible. If you lease your horse to another person, you might be liable if the horse injures the lessee. You might even incur liability by doing nothing more than keeping your own horses on your own property, if a court finds that the horses are an “attractive nuisance,” and thus an unreasonable danger to trespassing children who are injured (see sidebar page 90). The list continues.

It should be obvious by now that the only way to avoid all potential liability is to abandon the horse business altogether. Few of us are willing to do that, however. The next best thing is to identify potential problem areas and plan accordingly. Accidents do happen, no matter how careful you are, and there always is a risk that you will find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit. Being blameless does not make you immune from a lawsuit, and being right does not guarantee that you will win in court if you are sued. Even if you do win, you likely will be faced with thousands of dollars in legal bills. When you are dealing with potential liability, it always is better to be safe than sorry

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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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