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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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Julie Fershtman, author of our popular and prolific Equine Law Blog, was interviewed 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.

Julie Fershtman’s Recent and Upcoming Equine Law Speaking Engagements Include:

National Conference on Equine Law in Louisville, Kentucky on April 29, 2020. Topic will be on Waivers/Releases of Liability Involving Minor Participants. 

U.S. Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado on December 10, 2019. Topic will be on Equine Liability. 

IRMI Emmett J. Vaughan Agribusiness Conference (“AgriCon”) in Sacramento, CA (April 2019), and Richmond, VA (June 2019) and in Des Moines, IA (September 2019), on topics of “Equine Activity Liability Acts” and “Equine Mortality Insurance Disputes.”

National Conference on Equine Law in May 2019 in Lexington, KY, on the topic of “Equine Activity Liability Act Updates” and liabilities involving hosting of equine clinics. 

Agricultural Claims Conference in Kansas City, MO, in March 2019 on topics of “Loose Livestock Liabilities.”

2018 American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, on “Equine Mortality Coverage and Disputes.”

November 2018, American Horse Council webinar on “Equine Liability.”

Honors & Recognitions

Equine lawyer, Julie Fershtman, has received these prestigious equine industry awards from respected equine organizations:

"Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award" - American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Law Section Animal Law Committee

"Distinguished Service Award" - American Youth Horse Council

"Industry Service Award" - Michigan Equine Partnership

"Catalyst Award"- Michigan Horse Council

"Outstanding Achievement Award" - American Riding Instructors Association 

"Partner in Safety Award" - American Riding Instructors Association 

"Associate Service Award" - United Professional Horseman's Association

"National Partnership in Safety" Award" - Certified Horsemanship Association 

What our Equine Law Services can Provide

Handling breach of contract, fraud/ misrepresentation, commercial code, and other claims involving equine-related transactions including purchases/sales, leases, mare leases/foal transfers, and partnerships.

Litigating disputes in court or through alternative dispute resolution (arbitration, mediation, facilitation).

Defending equine/farm/equestrian industry professionals,  businesses, and associations in personal injury claims and lawsuits.

Drafting and negotiating contracts for boarding, training, sales, waivers/releases, leases, and numerous other equine-related transactions.

Representing and advising insurers on  coverage and policy language as well as litigation;

Advising equine industry clubs and associations regarding management, rules, bylaws, disputes, and regulations.

Representing some of the equine industry's top trainers, competitors, stables, and associations.

Counseling industry professionals, stable managers, and individual horse owners. 


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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