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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.

Avoiding Liability

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.

Categories: Boarding, Insurance, Liability

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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.

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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.

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 

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. 

THE NATION'S MOST SOUGHT-AFTER EQUINE LAW SPEAKER

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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