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Can the Government be Held Responsible for a Breeding Farm’s CEM Outbreak?

A few years ago, some valuable breeding stallions contracted Contagious Equine Metritis (“CEM”), an equine venereal disease, while boarded at a breeding farm in Kentucky. The stallion owners sued the breeding farm, alleging that it was negligent in allowing the CEM to spread to their stallions from an incoming stallion, who had been brought to the farm from a Wisconsin quarantine facility where it contracted the CEM. [CEM is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), in part through its importation guidelines for horses that arrive from foreign countries and are quarantined. These guidelines also prohibit horses with CEM from being imported into the United States.]

As part of its defense of the stallion owners’ lawsuit, the breeding farm attempted to add the Federal Government into the case through a Third-Party Complaint, claiming that the USDA had a legal duty to use reasonable care in quarantining, testing, and examining imported horses (such as the stallion who brought CEM to the Wisconsin quarantine facility and caused it to spread to the stallion who would later move to Kentucky). The breeding farm also asserted that the USDA breached a legal duty to warn owners of outbreaks.

Unfortunately for the farm, the USDA’s defense of sovereign immunity prevented liability against it. The Federal Government enjoys sovereign immunity, which prevents litigation against it from succeeding, except in limited situations. In this case, the court held, none of the exceptions permitted the case to succeed.  The breeding farm then sought to amend its Third-Party Complaint to allege that the USDA was liable because its officials were required to prevent the outbreak. But the Court dismissed that, as well, finding that USDA regulations imposed no such duty.

Accordingly, the breeding farm’s case against the Federal Government was dismissed.

Please keep in mind that all cases are different; whether or not the government can be liable for injury to horses depends on the facts and, of course, the law. Discuss your situation with a knowledgeable lawyer.

[The case was Harnish v. Liberty Farm Equine Reproduction Center, LLC, DeGraff Stables Kentucky, LLC, and DeGraff Stables, Inc., 2012 WL 119762; 2012 WL 3028052 (N.D. Ind. 2012).]

Categories: Boarding, Breeding, Liability, Regulatory

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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.

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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