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Michigan Stable's Release Within Its Boarding Contract Helps Secure Dismissal of Lawsuit

Imagine owning a boarding stable that had a barn fire, causing loss to some of the horses. Imagine later being sued from a disgruntled boarder whose horse perished in the fire. This happened to a Michigan stable, and the stable faced an aggressive legal challenge from the boarder. In the end, the trial court dismissed the case and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal in 2014. Why did the stable win? The liability release in its boarding contract played an important part of this result.

The defendant stable's boarding contract contained a liability release clause that was specifically related to the boarded horse. It stated, in part:

Owner also agrees to release and hold harmless [names withheld], and their employees, agents, representatives, heirs, assigns, affiliated persons, and others acting on their behalf from liability for any and all injuries, damages, or losses that Owner's horse(s) may sustain arising out of the boarding or keeping at Stable that may accrue from any cause whatsoever, including fire, theft, running away, accidents, illness, or injuries during the term of this Agreement and while horse(s) is/are in Stable's care, custody, or control (except if directly caused by Stable's gross negligence or wanton and willful misconduct).

On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals found this clause to be enforceable and dismissed the lawsuit. In doing so, the court found that the plaintiff horse owner presented insufficient evidence of “gross negligence” on the stable's part because, under Michigan law, "gross negligence" required proof of "conduct so reckless that it demonstrates a substantial lack of concern with regard to whether an injury will result." By comparison, the court cited evidence that the barn fire was most likely accidental and caused by "spontaneous heating of . . . hay.” Evidence also showed that the stable took quick action upon discovering the fire and saved many of the horses. In addition, the court found that the plaintiff boarder presented no evidence of "wanton and willful” misconduct because, by law, that would "represent an even higher standard for a plaintiff to overcome."

Risk Management for the Boarding Stable

In this case, the boarding stable was able to defeat the lawsuit because of its carefully worded liability release. Stables would be wise to include liability releases within their boarding contracts (where allowed by law). Also, stables seeking insurance coverage for claims involving injury or loss of boarded horses can also consider purchasing "care, custody, or control" insurance coverage.

The case was: Nagler v. Hunt, Michigan Court of Appeals Case No. 314014 (3/13/2014).

Categories: Boarding, Contracts, Lawsuit, 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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