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Best laid plans: Be prepared for when things go wrong

by Mike Beethe, Esq., Article donated by the mane points horse resource center.

A single equine or human injury can have substantial impact if it results in a lawsuit against the barn owner or operator. Not only does he or she possibly become responsible for the cost of defense, but any judgment rendered against them by the court also comes into play. Additionally, an injury could substantially damage the reputation of the operation or event.

The first priority is the safety of the people involved, as well as those nearby. Additionally, in order to minimize injuries, the horse should be controlled and taken from the immediate area of the injured person. Everyone involved needs to stay calm and organized, and refrain from assigning or admitting fault.

If the injuries appear to be serious, call 911. Especially with possible back or head injury, the rider should be kept still until emergency help arrives. If the injuries appear minor, proper first aid should be applied. If there is any doubt as to the extent of the injuries, take the injured person to the hospital for evaluation.

When children are involved, notify the parents immediately, regardless of how minor the injury. In the case of adults, notify relatives or friends of the injured person.

Contact your insurance carrier as soon as the accident scene has been controlled and the injured party is given proper medical attention. The insurance carrier will want to know the details of the accident and will inform you on how to proceed. Especially in the case of serious injuries, contact your lawyer, who will be able to give you detailed instruction on investigating the accident, as well as advice on handling the public and your other customers. Be absolutely truthful with your attorney; whatever you relate is protected by the attorney-client relationship, and will therefore remain confidential.


Maintain proper insurance for the facility, and inform your agent what types of activities go on.


The investigation should include interviewing witnesses and those involved in order to determine how the accident occurred, as well as how the injured party was handled following the accident. If the accident involves outside material, such as a piece of tack that broke, it should be kept in the condition it was found during the investigation. All materials relating to the accident should be turned over to your attorney or insurance company, along with waivers or releases signed by the injured party.

While you may feel very badly about the injury, refrain from assigning fault to anyone. You will undoubtedly receive many inquiries as to what happened. The best approach is to generally define what happened, without assessing the cause or assigning fault.

Take steps before any accident occurs: Maintain proper insurance for the facility, and inform your insurance agent what types of activities go on there. Failure to properly describe the activities could void coverage. Not only will the proper insurance policy provide you coverage for accidents, it will often also pay for defense of a lawsuit.

Obtain a medical consent form from the parents of each minor who interacts with horses at your facility. Keep these forms in a single, central location, which will make them easy to find.

Make sure that each participant signs a liability release, if allowed in your state. A liability release will clearly define the dangers of inter- acting with horses, as well as the participant's "assumption of the risk" of the activity.

It's also an excellent idea to post warning signs. Currently, 43 states have enacted Equine Activity Liability Statutes. These statutes often limit the liability of owners and operators. Many of these statutes require posted signs with specific wording.

Review the Equine Activity Liability Statute for your state to determine your posting requirements.



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