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Equine Industry Liability Releases: Are Fewer Words Better?

Julie Fershtman, our Equine Law practitioner, is speaking at the 31st Annual National Conference on Equine Law in Lexington, Kentucky, on the topic of liability releases in equine activities. Today’s blog post shares some of her upcoming remarks.

Is the Shortest Release of Liability the Best?

In a 1960 Tennessee case, the plaintiff rented a horse from the defendant’s stable but was injured when a stirrup broke. He sued. Before the ride, however, he signed the stable’s liability release. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of his lawsuit and enforced the release. Interestingly, the release was only 16 words long. It stated:

“I am hiring your horse to ride today and all future rides at my own risk.”

The case was: Moss v. Fortune, 340 S.W.2d 902 (Tenn. 1960).

What can the equine industry learn from this? Absolutely nothing.

The law regarding releases of liability (also known as “waivers”) has become tremendously complex. Gone are the days when a 16-word document can dismiss a case, thanks to numerous state statutes and court cases. Consequently, those who believe “shorter is better” with liability releases could be doing themselves a serious disservice.

Details Matter

Releases of liability are important documents in the risk management efforts of stables, horse owners, associations, operators, businesses, and equine industry professionals. When these documents are challenged by an injured person, issues often center on one or more of the following:

  • State law or recognized public policy. A small number of states have statutes or cases setting forth a recognized public policy that renders releases, regardless of how well they were worded, unenforceable.
  • Faulty language. Most states have shown a willingness to enforce waivers/releases, but courts will not enforce these documents if they believe they were improperly drafted. The problem is, many people in the equine industry have used (or re-used) forms from other states or other operations. These documents might not account for unique state requirements and individual needs.
  • Presentation and signing issues. Courts sometimes refuse to enforce a release if they are convinced that there was a problem or defect in the manner in which the document was presented. For example, a person might claim that he or she was wrongly rushed or defrauded into signing the release. On the other hand, courts have recognized that, as a general matter, when someone chooses not to read a release before signing, this does not, on its own, render the document unenforceable.
  • Signing issues. An improperly signed release will not be enforced. For example, a release signed only by a minor for an equine activity would be voidable.
  • Serious wrongdoing. Most states will not allow releases to prevent legitimate claims of serious wrongdoing, such claims for gross negligence, intentional misconduct, willful misconduct, and/or wanton misconduct. Still, an injured party who raises any of these claims in an effort to avoid a release must be able to prove them; otherwise, a lawsuit still risks dismissal.

Conclusion

Courts give releases of liability intense scrutiny, but cases exist in almost every state where they have been enforced and lawsuits dismissed on the strength of these documents. Those who use releases of liability should make sure that their documents comply with applicable state laws and are properly presented. Also, remember that releases are not a substitute for liability insurance; people who sign releases can, and sometimes do, file lawsuits. With this in mind, liability insurance is always important.

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

Categories: Liability

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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.

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. 

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, 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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