{ Banner Image }

Why Do Liability Releases Sometimes Fail?

"Releases are not worth the paper they're written on."  Is this really true?  Generally speaking, no.  What is true, however, is that releases of liability (also called "waivers")  are probably the most misunderstood contracts in the entire horse industry.

Reason For Failure #1:  An Applicable State Law Makes Them Invalid

The vast majority of states have enforced releases of liability.  Even in these states, courts frequently recognize that people cannot release away the right to sue another for certain types of more serious wrongdoing, such as "gross negligence" or intentional misconduct.

Reason for Failure #2: Defective Language

People who sign releases sometimes sue.  Lawsuits have asserted a variety of arguments.  Not surprisingly, when a release is subjected to a legal challenge it will receive intense scrutiny.  Here are two examples of these kinds of challenges:

  1. In a lawsuit against an Ohio equestrian center, the document was termed a "release" but failed to contain language in which the signer appropriately released the center from liability.  Instead, the participant seemed only to have released the center from liability for the consequences of the signer's own negligence.  That document failed in a challenge.
  2. In another case, the release contained a misstatement of fact (that the stable had no liability insurance, when it did).  The Wisconsin Court ruled that this misstatement prevented the stable from relying on the release.

Reason for Failure #3:  Improper Signing

Even the best-worded release could fail if there was some legally significant defect in the manner in which it was presented and signed.  Over the years, for example, releases have failed when those signing them were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Releases have also failed when signed only by someone under the legal age (in states that enforce releases, typically those at or over the age of 18 can legally sign them).  Other cases exist in which people claimed they were deceived or defrauded into signing the release, or that they did not understand what they signed.  Whether these claims succeed or fail depends on the law of the applicable state.


A release is a very important legal document.  Do not take chances with it.  Understand that forms can be, at best, a starting point.  Make sure that forms comply with legal requirements of your state.  Also, remember that having a release is never a substitute for having proper liability insurance.

If you have any questions about releases, please let me know.

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.

View All Posts by Author ›

Type the following characters: niner, mike, three, sierra, three

* Indicates a required field.

Subscribe to RSS»
Get Updates By Email:

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.

Follow Us on Twitter!

Follow us for updates regarding news, cases, disputes, and issues regarding Equine Law. @horselawyers