Children, Horses, and Liability: The Law Might Surprise You
- A boarder brings her curious and rambunctious 4 year-old son, Henry, to the stable, but he slips away when she enters the tack room, despite her command to stay put, and wanders over to a nearby stall. He opens the stall door, allowing a yearling inside to run loose. The yearling gallops into the road, collides with a car, and motorists are injured. They sue the stable.
- Before Sarah, 15 years old, takes a riding lesson, the instructor requires her parent to sign a liability release. Minutes later, Sarah falls off during the lesson and is injured. She sues the instructor.
Misunderstandings and myths abound when it comes to liabilities involving children. Make sure to separate fact from fiction.
Can a Child be Negligent?
In the example above, some might expect the stable to simply deflect liability onto Henry and claim that he was negligent for causing the yearling to escape. The law is not that simple, however. Because Henry is under the age of seven, numerous state laws would provide that he is too young to be negligent. [By comparison, in some states, a claim might be directed against his mother on the basis that she negligently supervised him.]
Does the Stable's Release, Signed by a Parent, Bar the Claims of a Child?
Never assume that a minor’s claims can be waived or released away in a contract. Courts throughout the country have disagreed on the issue of whether a properly worded waiver/release, signed by a parent or legally appointed guardian, can bar the injured child's personal injury claim. A release that might be enforceable under Colorado law, for example, would fail under Michigan law. Check your state’s law.
Stables and horse owners looking to protect themselves can consider the following:
- Liability insurance. Insurance cannot prevent a problem from happening, but it can respond to a claim or suit (assuming proper coverage and policy limits).
- Indemnification. Stables sometimes include indemnification clauses in their contracts. These clauses generally provide that a boarder (such as Henry's mother) agrees to indemnify the stable if a claim is asserted against the stable relating to actions or inactions on her part that cause injury, death, or damage to someone. States differ in their enforcement of indemnification clauses. For people who sign contracts containing these clauses, be aware that your liability insurance policy might exclude coverage for liabilities you have “assumed in a contract," such as indemnification clauses. Discuss your coverage further with your insurance agent or attorney.
- Stable rules. Stables can post rules regarding children on the premises. As one example, a stable rule can prevent minors under a specified age from being unattended on the stable property.
Legal issues involving children can be complex and laws vary widely from state to state. Make sure to direct your questions to a knowledgeable attorney.
Julie 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 www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.View All Posts by Author ›
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Honors & Recognitions
Equine lawyer, Julie Fershtman, has recieved 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
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