Can You Contract With a Child?
A teenager, 17 years old, drives herself to your stable and expresses an interest in buying or leasing one of your horses. She is old enough to drive a car, but is she old enough to enter into a contract with you?
The answer is no. Unless she has reached the age of majority in the applicable state, she does not have the legal capacity to enter into a contract with you.
In most states around the country, the age of majority is 18, but some exceptions exist in states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Puerto Rico, which have higher ages of majority (but always check your state’s law).
When a party to a contract is not of proper age, and unless the contract is for true “necessities,” the contract is voidable. Over the years, stables have learned this the hard way. In a 1997 Florida case, for example, a riding stable allowed a 13 year-old child to sign its “Release and Assumption of Risk” form and thereafter ride a horse rented from the stable. The child was injured during the ride and sued; her lawsuit claimed that the stable was negligent. Evaluating the facts, a Florida appellate court held that the minor child was not bound by the release she signed. In doing so, the court stated: “Except as to a very limited class of contracts considered binding, as for necessities, etc., the modern rule is that the contract of an infant is voidable rather than void. This rule applies to both executed and executory contracts, but with different application of the word voidable. To say that the executed contract of an infant is voidable means that it is binding until it is avoided by some act indicating that the party refuses longer to be bound by it.” When the 14 year-old filed suit, the court held, she disavowed the contract and made clear that she no longer intended to be bound by it. Her lawsuit could proceed.
The case was: Dilallo v. Riding Safely, Inc., 687 So.2d 353 (Fla. App. 1997). It also cited a Georgia case, Smoky, Inc. v. McCray, 396 S.E.2d 794 (Ga. App. 1990), which held that a riding stable’s release was voidable because it was signed only by a 14 year-old girl.
If someone under the age of majority wants to transact business with you, such as buy or lease a horse or sign up for riding lessons, keep the following in mind:
- Make sure that he or she is of legal age in your state if you expect him or her to sign contracts, including releases.
- If he or she claims to be of legal age, consider demanding proof (such as a valid driver’s license).
- If the person is not of legal age based on your state’s law, make sure to enter into the contract instead with his or her parent or legally appointed guardian.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
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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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.
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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