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Release of Liability Failures – And How to Avoid Them

Your liability release might not be as strong as you think. Though courts in most states have shown a willingness to enforce releases of liability (when properly worded and signed), there is never a guarantee that all courts will accept and enforce your release. Why have releases failed? Here are examples of a few documents that failed in a legal challenge because the courts believed they were improperly drafted:

Release Referred Only to Riding – But the Accident Did Not Involve Riding

We see many releases that apply only to people who are riding horses when the documents could more broadly extend to people engaged in a variety of activities, mounted or unmounted. In an Arizona case years ago, a court refused to enforce a stable’s liability release because it applied, by its terms, only to “horse riding or horse-drawn activity.” There, by comparison, the injured plaintiff, a 10 year-old girl, was not riding when the accident occurred. Rather, she was standing alongside a grazing horse with the lead rope wrapped around her hand.

Release Contained a False Statement

Releases containing false statements could receive harsh scrutiny from courts. In a Wisconsin case, for example, the stable’s release contained a false statement that the stable had “no insurance covering equestrian activities.” For that reason, the court refused to enforce it and allowed an injured customer’s case to continue.

Failure to Name Proper Parties

Releases can name (or, in some states, reasonably describe) the people and entities that the signer agrees to release. If your release fails to name or describe the right people or entities, don’t expect a court to add them back into the document. This problem occurred in a Wisconsin case several years ago where the plaintiff was injured during a guided trail ride. He signed the stable’s release before the ride. In its first sentence, the release mentioned the defendant’s corporation, “Mroteks, Inc.,” but important language further within the document mentioned only that the signer was releasing Mrs. Mrotek (individually), not the corporation. Because of this, the release failure allowed the entity to be sued.

Despite its Title, the “Release” Was Not a Release

In an Ohio case, the plaintiff signed a liability release before breaking her back during a riding lesson. Despite the release’s title, however, the document really wasn't a release; nowhere did the document specify that the plaintiff agreed to release the stable from liability. Refusing to dismiss the case, the court instead ruled that a jury must decide the plaintiff’s intent. The court also explained that Ohio law requires that releases purporting to relieve a party for negligence “must be expressed in terms that are clear and unequivocal.”

What do these cases have in common? Courts believed that equine industry liability releases had faulty drafting. Releases are very important documents that deserve careful attention. Don’t take chances with them. Discuss your documents with a knowledgeable lawyer.

Categories: Liability

Photo of Julie I. 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.

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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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