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Lawsuits for Defective Equine Products

Disputes involving defective horse feed have, in some instances, turned into lawsuits.  Several years ago, I worked on a case where a horse died from blister beetle poisoning, and the horse owners sued a product manufacturer, the hay grower, and the hay seller.

“Blister beetle poisoning” is a type of poisoning that can result when a horse ingests a number of beetles called “blister beetles.”  In the tissue of these types of beetles is a toxic substance called “cantharidin.”  Blister beetles sometimes swarm in or near alfalfa fields in certain regions of the United States, typically the Southwest, and at certain times of the year.  When those alfalfa fields are cut and baled for hay, blister beetles sometimes get caught in the hay and are not always immediately visible.  Later, horses eating the hay might ingest blister beetles.  Some will die or become seriously injured.

Liability for Defective Feed

Lawsuits arises from horses becoming poisoned or ill from defective feed or hay can involve several legal theories, depending on the facts and applicable law.  They can include negligence, breach of warranty, breach of contract, products liability, fraud, and/or a consumer protection law/deceptive trade practices act.

Burden of Proof

In a case involving defective hay, such as the blister beetle case I handled, the one who brings a claim or suit bears the burden of proof and must come forth with sufficient evidence to prove:

  • The horse died from blister beetle poisoning.  Has a veterinarian concluded, to a reasonable degree of veterinary certainty, that blister beetle poisoning caused the horse’s death?  Was a post-mortem examination performed?  If so, did the exam find cantharadin in the horse’s system and/or lesions in the horse’s mouth or stomach consistent with blister beetle poisoning?  If no post-mortem exam was done, will a qualified veterinarian attest that the horse died from blister beetle poisoning?
  • The hay at issue caused the poisoning.  Proving the source of the fatal cantharidin can be difficult since stables sometimes some keep inventories of feed and hay that originate from different sources.
  • Damages.  The aggrieved horse owner must prove damages (“damages” are what the law allows as compensation for losses).  The applicable state’s law will tell what plaintiffs can potentially recover from the responsible parties.

Defenses

Defective product cases can be very complex and costly to pursue and to defend.  Defendants (the ones who are sued) can  assert many possible defenses, and all will depend on the facts and the applicable law.  Examples of defenses include, but are not limited to: the seller or distributor was unaware of the defect, the state Commercial Code does not apply to the one being sued, the one being sued had no control over the condition of the hay, the one being sued was not negligent because he or she fulfilled all obligations reasonably required (such as a proper inspection), the statements allegedly made by the seller do not legally qualify as “warranties,” under the law.

If you have questions about blister bettle poisoning or about other defective products, please let me know.

Additional information on blister bettles:

Categories: 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.

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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 

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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;

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

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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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