Helmets, Damages, and Waivers

Mandatory helmet laws for riders, damages available to a successful plaintiff in equine litigation, and liability waivers were among the topics addressed during the first day of the 25th National Conference on Equine Law in Lexington, Ky. Presented by the University of Kentucky College of Law’s Office of Continuing Education, the April 28-29 conference attracted more than 180 participants from 27
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Mandatory helmet laws for riders, damages available to a successful plaintiff in equine litigation, and liability waivers were among the topics addressed during the first day of the 25th National Conference on Equine Law in Lexington, Ky. Presented by the University of Kentucky College of Law's Office of Continuing Education, the April 28-29 conference attracted more than 180 participants from 27 states and the Netherlands.

Any lingering doubts that horseback riding is a dangerous activity were swept away by statistics presented by Minnesota attorney Katherine C. Bloomquist: Riding ranks third in the number of concussions sustained by adults; head injuries are the most common injury sending riders to the hospital; head injuries account for almost two-thirds of deaths resulting from equestrian activities; a fall from two feet can cause permanent brain damage.

Despite the obvious danger of head trauma associated with riding and some statistical evidence that properly designed and fitted helmets can reduce that risk, laws mandating the use of riding helmets are surprisingly controversial. The first state law requiring helmet use by minors was not passed until 1999 in New York. Florida followed suit last year, and some municipalities have approved local helmet ordinances. Pending legislation in Maryland and Massachusetts has stalled.

Typical objections, according to Bloomquist, include rider concerns about the appearance and comfort of helmets, traditions associated with some breeds and events, potential conflicts between helmet laws and association rules mandating specific attire in competitions, and fears that requiring helmet use violates an individual’s freedom of choice. Bloomquist recommends that riders only purchase helmets certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI), two private groups that test and rate helmets

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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 TheHorse.com/1122392.

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