Didn’t Read the Stable’s Release? You Might Still Be Bound By It
The stable or instructor gives the customer a liability release to sign. Later, he sues the stable, and when the stable uses the signed release in its defense, the customer admits that he signed it. But he claims that it should not be enforced because he failed to read it before he signed it.
Is this argument valid? Nationwide, courts have considered these claims in equine-related cases, and some of the results might surprise you.
Signer Did Not Read the Release Before Signing
People sometimes challenge releases by claiming that they failed to read the documents before signing. That argument can fail in some states – unless the court is convinced that the stable may have defrauded the signer into not reading.
In a 1983 Georgia case involving a rented horse, the plaintiff signed the stable’s liability release but later became injured during the trail ride. The trial court dismissed the case based on the release, rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that he never read the release before signing it. In doing so, the court stated: “One signing a written document without reading it, unless prevented from doing so by fraud or artifice (a fact not shown to be true in this case), is chargeable with knowledge of its contents.”
In a 1997 Indiana case, the plaintiff signed a stable’s release before taking part in a guided trail ride but was kicked by a horse during the ride. The trial court dismissed his case based on the release. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that he was rushed into signing it and did not read it. Examining the facts, however, the court found insufficient evidence of this and noted that the stable did not rush him into signing the release nor did the stable defraud him into signing it. Dismissal was affirmed.
Signer Allegedly Rushed Into Signing
People sometimes challenge releases with the argument that they were “rushed’ into signing. When those arguments are made, courts will evaluate the circumstances leading up to signing. Court rulings can be unpredictable. For example:
“Less than 15 seconds” to read was not enough. In a 1954 California case, the plaintiff signed the defendant riding academy’s release but later sustained paralyzing injuries during the ride. He claimed that he spent less than 15 seconds with the document before he signed it. The court refused to enforce the release, finding disputed facts as to whether the academy defrauded the plaintiff into signing the release, in part by failing to tell him that it was assigning a spirited horse.
“Two seconds” to read was enough. In a 2001 Federal Court case from North Carolina, the plaintiff claimed he spent only about “two seconds” glancing at the stable’s release before signing it. He later fell from a horse and sued. Still, the Court enforced the release and dismissed the lawsuit.
Please keep in mind that laws differ nationwide, and states differ in how (or if) they enforce releases of liability. Direct your questions to a knowledgeable attorney.
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, 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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