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Perils of the Verbal Contract

“Get it in writing!”  No matter how often lawyers utter these cautionary words,  people in the horse industry continue to do business on a handshake.  Unfortunately, legal disputes involving verbal agreements are rarely quick, easy, or cheap to resolve.  Why? 

With nothing in writing, each party to the transaction often has a totally different understanding of what it involved.  As a result, it sometimes takes a lengthy lawsuit to prove the contract’s terms. 

Those who fail or refuse to use written agreements accept the risk that any number of problems can occur.  Here are some of them:

  • Unenforceability.  By law, a verbal contract might be unenforceable, depending on its terms.  This actually happened in an equine case from New York several years ago.  In that case, a court refused to enforce a verbal broodmare lease because the contract could not, by its terms, be performed within a year; that agreement violated a common legal principle known as the “Statute of Frauds,” which generally provides that certain types of contracts must be in writing to be enforceable.  For example, the Statute of Frauds provides that contracts that cannot, by their terms, be performed within a year must be in writing.  Also, the Statute of Frauds requires conveyances of land to be in writing.
  • Equine Liability Statutes.  Currently (as of July 2011), 46 states have some type of equine activity liability statute on the books.  Some of these laws require the use of written contracts.  Arizona’s equine activity liability act, for example, provides no protection unless the equine activity participant has signed a written waiver that includes specific language supplied in the law.  Similarly, West Virginia’s Equestrian Activities Responsibility Act requires participants to sign a written statement using language that the law provides.  In a small number of states, equine activity liability statutes will give no protection for “equine activity professionals” or “equine activity sponsors” that do not include the law’s “warning” language or other language within written contracts.
  • Costs.  Lawyers charge far more to resolve legal disputes than they do to prevent them.  Consequently, the legal expense to draft a written contract (that can help avoid a dispute) is often a small fraction of the fee if a legal dispute arises from the transaction.


This article is not meant to suggest that every written contract will prevent all disputes.  Sometimes even the most sophisticated contracts can generate disputes.  To their credit, however, written contracts can help narrow the grounds of a dispute.  And the net result is often a savings of time, money, and aggravation.

If you would like more information or have any questions, please give me a call.

Categories: Contracts, Liability, Sales/Disputes

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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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Our Equine law blog (and its author) in the news!

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. 


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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