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Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

The Equine Activities Liability Act —

Keeping Horse Recreation and Businesses Viable  

By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer

 

July 2008 Issue

 

     In the 1980s, horse activities and businesses such as commercial stables, horse shows, pony clubs, horse camps, outfitting and guiding, riding instruction, and recreational riding were threatened by lawsuits that were filed after participants were injured. The inherent risks of using and being around horses needed to become accepted by people participating in equine activities.

     In the early 1990s, with pressure from the horse industry, 44 states adopted the Equine Activities Liability Act (EALA) in an effort to limit the amount of liability which equine owners and professionals, event sponsors, and facility owners and administrators would be at risk for in the case of injury or death of an individual caused by a horse.

     While each state has its own variation on the terms and stipulations of the EALA, the underlying intention is to encourage equine activities because they provide a variety of benefits and that the risks involved are due to the unpredictability of equine behavior.

     The EALA defines the inherent risks of equine activities and prohibits lawsuits for injuries that are the result of such risks, but does not protect against negligence. The Act does not prevent someone from suing a provider, but it does provide a defense against the complaint if the terms of the EALA are complied with.

     Grant Simmonds, Executive Director of the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association, says that the EALA means that: “No news is good news. I’m not aware of any frivolous law suits in our industry. It’s working in Idaho . Most of our members have a standard form advising of risks around horses for their clients to read and sign.”

     Sherry Meador, a lawyer from Clancy , Montana , teaches horse business owners, attorneys, insurance providers, and recreational horsepeople how to understand, comply with, and use the EALA in Montana .

     “Although Montana is one of the few states with a law that prohibits releasing someone from liability of negligence, it hasn’t held up in court against the EALA, which clarifies and informs the public of the inherent risk of horse activities,” says Meador.

     “People are different now. They don’t understand that horses aren’t like Flicka, that horses are not out there to protect people. Even the gentlest horse can act up. Being around horses is not a risk-free environment.

     “Horse activity providers need to practice diligence; to develop a policy to provide information on risk and how to handle emergencies.

     “The client needs to understand the risk, to prepare for it, and to understand that they also can’t depend upon the horse provider being adequately insured.”

     Meador advises that providers have a form for clients to sign, that both parents and minor children should sign it after understanding the risks, and that helmets should be strongly advised for adults (who should sign a helmet waiver if they chose not to wear one) and mandated for children.

     “Inherent risks” include dangers or conditions which are an integral part of equine activities, such as:

   An animal behaving in ways that may result in injury, harm or death;

   Unpredictability of an animal’s reaction to such things as sounds, movement and unfamiliar objects, persons or other animals;

   Hazards such as surface conditions;

   A participant acting in a negligent manner, such as failing to control an animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.

     There are certain exceptions to the liability immunity of the EALA. Many states hold than an equine event sponsor or professional will be held liable for injuries of an equine activity participant if he or she displays a willful or intentional disregard for the safety of the participant, and if he or she fails to make reasonable and prudent effort in ensuring the safety of the participant.

     For example, when providing a participant with a horse, the provider should determine whether the animal fits the participant’s ability level. There should be no dangerous conditions which were known by the provider, and the equipment and tack should be inspected and in good condition.

     There have been many tests of the EALA, for example, in a 1999 court case, the plaintiff was bitten by a horse when she walked through a stable. The court determined that the plaintiff was a participant in an equine activity, and the stable owner was shielded from liability arising out of the “unanticipated, abnormal behavior of the horse.”

     In a case in 2002, the passenger of a horse-drawn sled was thrown from the sled and sued the owner. The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin found that the EALA provided protection of the owner against liability. The court held that the horse’s propensity “to move without warning is an inherent risk of equine activity contemplated by the statute.”

     Some states with Equine Activities Liability Acts require that signs be posted warning clients of inherent risks. Montana is not one of those states, but Meador says that it couldn’t hurt to voluntarily post signs.

     “Defending against a lawsuit means convincing a court that the client understood the risks taken in any horse activity. A signed form and posted signs will help that cause.”

     Meador says that some people get scared after learning of the inherent danger of horses, but with education and information, risk can be managed, for the benefit of equine activity providers and equine activity participants.

     Meador holds periodic workshops for professionals in the horse and insurance industry. Contact her at 406-442-1531 or meador@3riversdbs.net.

     The University of Vermont hosts a site named Equine Law and Horsemanship Safety which has a tremendous amount of information and links to state libability laws and other equine safety and law information. Visit: http://asci.uvm.edu/equine/law/

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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