Be Vigilant When Using a Professional Hauler for your Horse!
Some of us are lucky enough to have our own horse trailers and the driver’s license required to pull them. Our rig is insured and while our horse may or may not be insured, we know we will be careful with our very own precious cargo aboard. Even if we are the ones doing the hauling, it is a good idea to have full major medical and mortality insurance coverage for your horse if the horse’s value reasonably exceeds the cost of the insurance premium so that it makes financial sense to insure the horse.
However, some of us are not so lucky and are in the position of having to rely on third party haulers to get our horses from point A to point B. For some folks it’s a rare occurrence to hire a hauler and for others it’s common. The more often you use third party commercial horse haulers, the more closely you may want to read this blog entry.
First of all, remember that your personal automobile or homeowner’s or farm owner’s insurance policies do NOT cover the value of your horse if it is injured or killed in transit – whether you are hauling the horse or someone else is hauling. These types of personal policies do not typically cover the value of anything in a transport trailer, whether it is a horse or other property. There may be exceptions for certain types of personal property, but horses are typically not a covered property under these policies.
While many of us realize our personal insurance policies do not cover the value of our horse, many of us do not realize that commercial haulers are not required to have any specific amount of insurance to cover the value of the animals they are hauling. Many haulers do have insurance coverages for this purpose, but many of them do not. And of the ones who do carry the type of coverage which would pay an owner for the value of a horse which is injured or killed transit, most have very low coverages, as low as $1,000-$3,000 per head with a maximum per vehicle amount as well. If you are shipping a world champion cutting horse and it is killed in a collision, odds are that it was worth more than $3,000. Alternatively, if your world champion dressage horse is badly injured but not killed, odds are that the veterinary treatment costs will far exceed $3,000. There may be a few well insured haulers out there but, unfortunately, they are rarer than we would like, probably because good insurance coverage is cost prohibitive for them. The cheaper the cost of hauling, the less likely the hauler will have generous insurance coverage and the more likely they will have no coverage at all for your horse.
Even if your hauler has insurance which covers the loss of or injury to your horse, getting the insurance company to pay you for that loss or cost is not easy. You are then in the position of having to prove that the damage to or death of your horse was proximately caused by the covered person’s negligent actions or omissions. Proving this causation is easier said than done, especially when you are virtually never present when the injury or death occurs because the horse is usually alone with the hauler when it happens. I am reminded of a case where a client’s beautiful warmblood hunter filly prospect was being hauled from the west coast and the hauler cruelly left the filly on the trailer the first three days of the trip. He finally stopped at an equine layover facility on the east coast which happened to be owned by a veterinarian and, not surprisingly, the filly was three-legged lame when she came off the trailer. The veterinarian signed an affidavit attesting to the filly’s poor condition upon removal from the trailer and my client filed a claim with the hauler’s insurance company. The insurance company denied the claim because we could not prove to the company’s satisfaction that the injuries to the filly were caused by its insured hauler. Instead of going through the arduous process of filing a lawsuit and introducing evidence of the horse’s condition when it stepped on the trailer versus its condition when it stepped off, the client opted to drop the case when it discovered that even if it were successful in the lawsuit, the hauler had no personal or company assets (the truck and trailer both had large liens on them) and the limit of the hauler’s insurance coverage was only $3,000 per horse. After spending thousands on veterinary treatments, the client could not afford to pay lawyers to chase such a small sum of money and did not feel comfortable handling a small claims court action alone. In retrospect, of course they wish they had thought to insure the filly with major medical and mortality before she stepped foot on the trailer. If they had done so they would have been reimbursed for much of their expense.
What have we learned? If at all possible, to insure your horse with major medical and mortality for its full value before letting it step onto a trailer, whether your trailer or a third party’s trailer. If insurance is not an option for you for some reason, at least try to haul your horse yourself when you can (assuming you are an experienced, safe horse hauler) so that you have more control over the situation or be prepared to bear the loss of the horse’s value or the cost of the veterinary treatment in the event the horse is injured and survives. Make the choice today about what coverages you do or do not want so that you know what to expect in the event tragedy strikes.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. And you can always buy the first hour of my time for $250 (my usual hourly rate for 2014 is $350). Lots of folks will save up all their equine (and some corporate or real estate) legal questions and short documents and sit with me for an hour and we will do as much as we can during that hour and it’s only $250. You can check out my Twitter feed @nchorselawyer as well as our firm’s Equine Law Group web page at http://www.rl-law.com/equine if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories, this blog and the Twitter feed referenced above are also (in one way or another, I guess) an advertisement for legal services.