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Boarding Stable Liability When Horses Die in a Barn Fire

The setting is tragic.  The boarding stable catches fire and horses perish.  Is the stable liable?

Merely because a boarding stable’s barn has caught fire, injuring or killing horses inside, does not necessarily mean that the stable is automatically liable for the consequences.

Stable’s Obligations

When a stable accepts a horse belonging to another for care and keeping, the law generally imposes a duty on the stable to use reasonable care.  After a horse is injured or killed at a stable, anyone who brings a claim against the stable would be required to prove that the stable was negligent because it fell short of this standard and should be liable (legally accountable) for the resulting damages.  Here are some examples of negligence claims against stables based on fires:

  • The stable put accelerants, such as gasoline containers, in the barn under unsafe storage conditions.
  • The stable had faulty wiring that was known to violate applicable codes and regulations.
  • The stable had a known history of fires caused by similar circumstances, but its management failed to take proper corrective action.

Proving negligence requires evidence.  After a fire, the police or fire marshal will usually investigate and prepare a report.  In some instances, horse owners or insurers can promptly retain their own cause and origin experts to investigate, evaluate the cause, and render opinions.

Stable's Defenses

Stables that have been targeted with claims or suits from horse owners due to a barn fire can raise several possible defenses, depending on the facts.  Here are a few:

  • The horse owner signed a properly written and legally valid release of liability that prevents the claim.
  • The stable took appropriate action and did nothing that was negligent.
  • Someone else, over whom the stable had no control and for whom it should not be held legally accountable, was at fault.  For example, maybe a defective barn fan caused the problem.  This might instead give rise to a products liability claim.  Or, maybe the hay supplier improperly loaded damp hay into the barn or stacked the hay improperly, without the stable's knowledge.

If you have any questions regarding liability in a barn fire, please send me an email using the form below.

Categories: Boarding, Liability

Photo of Julie I. Fershtman

is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, three books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 29 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance. For more information, please also visit and, and

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Our Equine law blog (and its author) in the news!

Julie Fershtman, author of our popular and prolific Equine Law Blog, was interviewed this week by the State Bar of Michigan. The interview, which called Fershtman "Lawyer-Blogger," discussed our Equine Law Blog. We truly believe that this blog is the nation's most active blog serving the equine industry on equine law topics, and we thank you for visiting it. Read more here.

Honors & Recognitions

Congratulations, Julie! We're proud to share that Julie Fershtman has received two prestigious awards.

On April 13, 2013, she received the American Youth Horse Council's 2013 "Distinguished Service" Award. As the award itself states, she received it "[i]n recognition of years of dedicated service to the American Youth Horse Council and tireless efforts to touch the lives of youth involved with horses." For more information about the American Youth Horse Council, please visit

On May 7, 2013, Julie received the 2013 "Industry Award" from the Michigan Equine Partnership for her work over the years supporting legislation to promote and protect the Michigan equine industry. For more information about the Michigan Equine Partnership, please visit


We're pleased to share that Julie just won a case in Michigan where she defended a boarding and training stable that was sued by a visitor who was injured in the barn aisle. Julie cautions that this case might have been avoided altogether if the stable required every visitor to sign its waiver/release of liability. (Julie, interestingly, drafted that stable's release document years ago but the stable only presented it to customers.) Make sure that your release is well-worded and complies with the laws of your state.

Other Articles

"The Seller's Contract Includes an "As Is" Disclaimer – Now What?" - Desert Mirage Magazine, August 2013

Win Equine law Books!

We're always on the lookout for good article and update ideas for the Equine Law Blog. Please share yours! We'll give the sender of best tip of the month a free copy of Julie Fershtman's books, EQUINE LAW & HORSE SENSE and MORE EQUINE LAW & HORSE SENSE. Click here to send your ideas. [For more info on these and other publications written by Julie Fershtman, please visit and or call her directly at (248) 785-4731.]

Large Step Forward for the Horse Industry

We applaud the American Horse Council ( for its national marketing initiative for the horse industry. The AHC joined together ten national associations and large corporate industry stakeholders to make this happen. We await its marketing plan, which will propose ways to help people become more interested in horses and equine activities, either as participants or spectators.


Did you know Julie Fershtman has spoken at the American Horse Council Annual Meeting, Equine Affaire, Midwest Horse Fair, Equitana USA, US Dressage Federation Annual Meeting, North American Riding for the Handicapped (now PATH International) Annual Meeting, American Morgan Horse Association Annual Meeting, American Paint Horse Association Annual Meeting, US Pony Clubs, Inc.'s Annual Meeting, All-American Quarter Horse Congress, American Youth Horse Council Annual Meeting, American Riding Instructors Association Annual Meeting, CHA Annual Meeting, and numerous others? Consider signing her up for your convention. Contact Julie.

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