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.
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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Equine lawyer, Julie Fershtman, has recieved 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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