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How Not To Respond To an Equine-Related Lawsuit

You just received papers of a lawsuit that was filed against you. The party suing you demands substantial compensation. What do you do next? Knowing the right answer can be tremendously important—it can also save you a substantial amount of money. Taking the wrong action, in the worst case scenario, could potentially result in a sizeable judgment issued against you that cannot be overturned. 

What NOT to Do When Served With a Lawsuit

People in the equine industry have been known to do unwise and counterproductive things after being served with an equine-related lawsuit, such as:

  • A race horse trainer's assistant filed a lawsuit after being bitten by a horse. After receiving the suit, the trainer simply mailed the lawyer who sued her a copy of her state’s Equine Activity Liability Act, assuming (wrongly) that the lawyer would instantly drop the case. That never happened.
  • A horse owner, upon receiving a lawsuit, found the name of a lawyer and simply mailed over the papers to him without first determining the lawyer’s ability to handle her case.
  • Some people file away or toss out lawsuit papers, with no intention of taking action, under the assumption that inaction will make the case disappear.

Each of these situations really happened, and each person narrowly avoided having a judgment issued against him or her for failing to properly respond to the lawsuit.

Lawsuits should be taken very seriously. The consequences of a tardy response, no response, or an improper response can be costly. For example, the party suing you could ask the court to issue a “default” against you, followed by a request for a judgment. Correcting this problem requires immediate and thorough legal action.

Suggestions for Responding to a Lawsuit

Once you are handed a lawsuit, take prompt action. The reason is simple: state laws and court rules impose time limits on when to properly respond, and it might take time to evaluate your options. Consequently, the longer you wait, the greater the risk that your time to answer will run out, and you can never be sure that the opposing party’s lawyer or the court will allow you extra time.

As you evaluate your options after being sued, here are some ideas to keep in mind:

  • If you are insured, yet failed to notify your insurer of the lawsuit, a possibility exists that the insurer might refuse to pay any judgment issued against you. It might even file a lawsuit of its own against you to extricate itself from your situation.
  • If you have no insurance, contact a lawyer immediately. Keep in mind that the option of a free, court-appointed lawyer does not apply in cases involving business dealings, equine sales, or injuries related to your horses. You can find a lawyer through recommendations from others, websites (such as www.martindale.com or www.avvo.com or a lawyer referral service from your state or local bar association.
  • Representing yourself in court is, of course, your right, but proceed with caution before assuming that you can represent yourself effectively, especially if the other side has a lawyer.

This article does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

Categories: Lawsuit

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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