Ponies on the loose!

11 06 2009

So, my name is Dottie Burch and I’m a business and real estate lawyer in Raleigh, North Carolina who loves horses, has horses and who has ended up doing so much horse related legal work that has decided to go ahead and make it a practice area for me and the firm.  Thus the birth of the Ragsdale Liggett PLLC Equine Law Group.

Don’t know how often I will blog cause I’m thankfully busy at work, but I’ll put horsey related stuff up here that I think might be helpful to folks in the horse world. 

The other day I got a call from someone who said her friend’s horses got out of the pasture and she was very distressed.  Apparently a car was driving down the road, saw the horses running around, but failed to slow down at all.  One of the loose horses, a pony, darted out in front of the car and was struck by the car.  Unfortunately the impact broke the pony’s leg and she had to be put down.  I don’t know if the pony was a fancy, expensive pony or a family pet.  The car that hit the pony was damaged too and the driver wanted the pony’s owner to pay for the damage to her car.  Of course she felt like this request was adding insult to injury because she had already lost her pony.  The girl emailing me wanted to know if her friend was liable for the car damage or whether the driver was liable for the pony’s injury & ultimate death. 

What a horrible situation!  We all live in fear that our precious horses will get loose and get hurt, so I certainly understand the owner’s distress.  I would be devastated, I know.   Unfortunately in NC and every other state I know of, you are responsible for keeping your animals contained, whether they be dogs, cats, pigs, cows, horses or any other pet or farm animal.  If they get loose and do damage, you’re responsible and you should alert your liability insurance company if anything like this ever happens.  Some might say just pay the damage to the car yourself and don’t report it to the insurance company, but that’s risky because what if the driver develops an “injury” later that he or she attributes to the accident and you handled things on your own?   Then you’re potentially exposed for all damages from the accident personally if your insurance policy has an exclusion for things you don’t report to them on a timely basis (most do).  If you report it, you may get some insurance “points” but the driver will have to sign a release before they’ll get their money to fix their car and that release protects you from ever hearing from that driver again, so it’s worth it to call your insurance company 99% of the time.

Now, in this particular fact situation the driver was potentially negligent in not slowing down when he saw horses running all around the road.  In NC we call negligence by the person who got hurt “contributory negligence” and in NC if a victim is contributorily negligent, they are not supposed to be able to recover anything from you.  It’s supposed to be a “bar to recovery” by the victim.  As a practical matter, though, judges and juries don’t make it a total bar to recovery most of the time.  Usually they just subjectively attribute a percentage of the fault between the victim and the main cause of the injury and that reduces whatever damages the victim gets.  So if a judge or jury found that this driver was 50% negligent and the horse owner was 50% negligent, although technically the driver should get nothing because of the rules about contributory negligence, the driver might instead get half of his damages paid for by the horse owner (or his insurance company).

So, moral of the story – be sure your horses are well contained, carry good insurance with high limits (as much as you can afford) and if you see horses running all around a road or highway, call the owner if you know them or 911 if you don’t and SLOW DOWN as much as is safe under the circumstances.

Another horsey story coming next week – this one is about a horse and buggy, so tune in!

Dottie Burch

dburch@rl-law.com

Ragsdale Liggett PLLC (www.rl-law.com)

(919) 881-2206

**Note:  Of course the names and facts of any situation described above have been altered slightly to protect my client’s privacy and preserve any privileged information.

If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at dburch@rl-law.com. I often will answer a short and simple question for free if I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! If you don’t hear back from me quickly, it’s not because I don’t love you or think you have a great question or because I don’t know the answer (usually), I’m probably just really busy and haven’t had a chance to email back.  You can check out our firm’s Equine Law Group at www.rl-law.com if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories and information, this blog is also an advertisement for legal services.  I have to tell you that in bold, says the State Bar.

Have a great weekend.

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