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Latest Word on “Dangerous Land” Under State Equine Activity Liability Acts

Broken Fence RailCourts nationwide have grappled with the meaning of equine activity liability laws – especially their exceptions. Exceptions in the laws are important as they could potentially allow certain lawsuits to proceed. Although all of the equine activity liability acts (referred to as “EALAs”) differ, many share common characteristics. Several include an exception for a “dangerous latent condition of the land.” This article explores how the exception has been faring in the courts.

What is the “Dangerous Latent Condition of the Land” Exception?

Michigan’s EALA, for example, states that despite provisions in the law that can prevent lawsuits, an equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or another person might still be liable for an equine-related injury if the person or business:

Owns, leases, rents, has authorized use of, or otherwise is in lawful possession and control of land or facilities on which the participant sustained injury because of a dangerous latent condition of the land or facilities that is known to the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or other person and for which warning signs are not conspicuously posted.

The term “latent” means that the condition’s presence is not apparent or visible. 

How Has This EALA Exception Been Faring in the Courts?

When people have been hurt while riding, handling or near horses or when they are hurt at equine facilities, the “dangerous latent condition” exception has been invoked, with mixed results.  

Court Finding a “Dangerous Latent Condition

Stall Door 

In a Kentucky case, the injured plaintiff was an equine veterinarian who was sedating a horse in a stall at the defendant’s farm when the horse reared and collapsed onto a stall door. That stall door then fell over on the vet, causing injuries. The vet’s lawsuit argued the stable should be liable under the “dangerous latent condition of the land” exception in Kentucky’s EALA. A Kentucky appeals court ruled that the case could proceed against the stable under that exception.

Courts NOT Finding a “Dangerous Latent Condition”

Fire Ants - In a case from 2005, the court was unwilling to conclude that a fire ant colony near the riding area qualified as a “dangerous latent condition of the land” under the Texas EALA.

Hitching Rail - A Georgia court ruling found that a camp was not liable when a portion of a hitching rail separated from its posts and fell over on a camper. The rail did not qualify as a “dangerous latent condition of the land” about which the camp knew or should have known. 

Gates - In a Massachusetts case, the plaintiff argued that the “dangerous latent condition of the land” exception of the Massachusetts EALA applied against a stable owner because a gate on the stable’s property allegedly fell into disrepair, allowing an aggressive horse access to plaintiff and her horse. The court disagreed. 

A pasture gate was also at issue in an Ohio case where the plaintiff was injured when a nearby horse bolted backwards into a gate and caused fence rail boards to pop out of a bracket and strike the plaintiff in her face. Based on evidence that the defendant landowner could not have known of a dangerous condition, the court rejected the “dangerous latent condition of the land” exception under Ohio’s EALA as a basis for liability.

Horse - During a fox hunt, a fox hunter was kicked by a fellow fox hunter’s horse. The injured hunter argued, in part, that the horse inflicting the kick was a “dangerous latent condition” under Georgia’s EALA for which no conspicuous warning signs were posted. A Georgia appellate court rejected that argument.

Tree - When a horse veered off of a track, causing the plaintiff to collide with a tree outside of the track and become injured, a court was unwilling to conclude that a tree qualified as a “dangerous latent condition” under the Texas EALA.

Conclusion

In conclusion, please keep these ideas in mind:

  1. Read carefully the EALAs applicable to where you live or do business. All of them differ.
  2. Properly worded and signed liability waivers/releases can be important. Courts in some states have allowed liabilities in EALAs to be released away by a waiver/release of liability, and a few state EALAs specifically allow this. 
  3. If you believe a condition exists on land that you own or rent that could qualify as a “dangerous latent condition” – such as a slick, icy patch well-known to exist in your indoor arena but covered with soil – your EALA may require you to post a “conspicuous warning sign” to alert people, not a generalized EALA “warning” sign.
  4. No EALA is a “zero liability law.” Some types of claims might be able to succeed. In addition to using properly worded liability waivers/releases (where allowed by law), liability insurance is also important.

Julie Fershtman has decades of experience handling cases and advising clients on EALAs around the country. Contact Julie if you have further questions concerning EALAs.

Categories: Boarding, Lawsuit, Liability

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is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. She has successfully tried equine cases before juries in four states. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, four 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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Fershtman’s Equine Law Book Wins Fourth National Award

Julie Fershtman’s latest book, Equine Law and Horse Sense, won its fourth national award on May 31, 2021. It was selected to receive a "Finalist" Medal in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. 

The 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards are presented by Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, which is the largest International awards program for indie authors and independent publishers. Here’s a link for the complete list of 2021 winners and finalists: https://www.indiebookawards.com/winners.php?year=2021 

Fershtman’s Equine Law Book Receives Third National Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, published by the American Bar Association, has been selected to receive a 2020 NYC Big Book Award in the category of “Reference” books.

The NYC Big Book Awards draws nominations world-wide. This is the third award for Fershtman’s book since its publication last year. Here is a link for more information, and to see the list of winners: https://www.nycbigbookaward.com/2020winners

Information on the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164105493X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

In 2022, Julie Fershtman is scheduled to be a speaker on equine liability at these conventions:

Fershtman’s Equine Law Book Receives Second National Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, published by the American Bar Association, has been selected to receive a 2020 NYC Big Book Award in the category of “Reference” books.

The NYC Big Book Awards draws nominations world-wide. This is the third award for Fershtman’s book since its publication last year. Here is a link for more information, and to see the list of winners: https://www.nycbigbookaward.com/2020winners

Information on the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164105493X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

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.

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 

Some of our Equine Law Services

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 a wide variety of equine-related 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, US Hunter/Jumper Association Annual Meeting, Midwest Horse Fair, Equitana USA, US Dressage Federation Annual Meeting, North American Riding for the Handicapped (now PATH International) 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 directly.

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