Understanding Equine Liability and How to Protect Yourself

equestrian dangers

The Florida equine industry is robust and diverse, contributing a significant role to the Sunshine State’s economy. Even so, the industry is full of potential financial risks for those involved in ownership, breeding, event hosting, and other aspects of the industry. Horse owners, trainers, and other professionals may be held liable for injuries caused by their horses. Such injuries can include those sustained by riders, handlers, or other people who come into contact with the horse. Fortunately, there are steps someone can take to protect themselves if an accident happens. Furthermore, you should consider having an attorney review any equine liability, contracts, or agreements to ensure you have protection against unexpected scenarios.

Horse Owners, Breeders, Instructors, and Trainers     

Consider purchasing a comprehensive equine liability insurance policy. Such a policy will provide coverage for various types of potential liabilities, such as if your horse causes bodily injury to another person or damages property.  

Check whether your policy includes “care, custody, and control” (CCC) coverage. This particular type of coverage will protect policyholders if their horse causes damage or becomes injured under their care, even if they are not directly responsible for the incident. Additionally, it is critical to review and understand the exclusions in your policy so that you are aware of any situations that are not covered by your policy. 

Properly train your horse: Having a record that your horse has been trained can not only reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring but can also be used as a defense in the event of a lawsuit.

While statutes may dictate the scope of liability when it comes to horse accidents, the common law includes a negligence exemption. This means that in the event that someone is injured due to negligence, the injured party may sue the negligent party.

For example, if a horse equine activity sponsor has an inexperienced rider paired with a horse that requires an experienced rider, the sponsor may be liable for any injuries that occur if an accident occurs. That is why one, or all of the following parties may be liable for any accident that happens.

  • The owner or trainer of the horse; and,  
  • The person who rented or leased the horse, including the rider of a horse involved in the accident. 

Factors that may help determine liability include the following:  

  • The horse’s training and temperament;  
  • The rider’s experience and skill level; and,   
  • The condition of the riding area.  

Horse Boarding Facilities  

Horse boarding facilities should also have liability insurance to protect against the risk of injuries or accidents that may occur on the property. Additionally, boarding facilities should consider posting warning signs if they have a potentially dangerous horse, or if they have a stable that is open to the public.  

The Equine Immunity Act 

In the past decades, horse accidents have led to extensive and costly litigation. Eventually, the litigation resulted in fewer and fewer opportunities for non-horse-owners to have opportunities to enjoy riding. In response to this, Florida, along with 31 other states, passed the Equine Immunity Act. This statute defines a person’s scope of liability if someone becomes injured riding their horse, whether on their property or while participating in a recreational activity or sporting event.   

The Act involves a law that requires every equine activity sponsor and equine professional to post and notify a visible warning sign or provide a written document that the participant must sign. The sign or document must state the following:   

“Under Florida law, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” 

Sites for Equine Shows and Competitions  

Florida’s laws limit the liability of equine activity sponsors, such as those at shows and competitions, as well as professionals in certain cases. However, cases of gross negligence are an exception. Like the requirements for equine boarding facilities, sites for shows and competitions typically have postings and/or waivers. Certainly, “Equine liability waivers” are commonly used in Florida. In many cases, operators of equine activities will require riders, participants, or visitors to sign a waiver that releases them from liability for any injuries or accidents that may occur. However, it’s important to note that these waivers are not always enforceable and may be challenged in court. For these reasons and those previously discussed, be sure to call Clayton Trial Lawyers for legal expertise and advice for all your equine law questions, disputes, and concerns.