Do You Really, Really KNOW Your Trainer? Part One

18 01 2013

I’ve gotten several calls lately with a theme and it worries me a little…or a lot, depending on how I think about it.

The casual and relatively close-knit nature of the horse world lulls us into feeling like if we really like someone, or if someone we know and respect really likes someone, they are fine.  And that’s usually the case.  But the calls I’ve been getting lately point out to me that such is not always the case.  So, my next two posts will address this issue and offer some suggestions:

Case No. 1 – North Carolina gentleman we will call Sid entrusts his young but very well bred dressage horse Wellington to a seemingly well known trainer we will call Herman in another state.  Herman had a nice website and did a good job with some of Sid’s friends’ horses.  What Sid didn’t realize was that Herman had also done a really poor job with several horses and had been sued several times by his clients as a result, but Herman had moved around from state to state hoping his reputation didn’t catch up with him.  Over a period of a couple of years Sid paid Herman upwards of $30,000 in board and training fees, thinking that Wellington was going to come home a superstar.  That didn’t happen.  Instead what came home was a horse that was 2 years older and still barely green broke with injuries which were consistent with being quite overworked, especially for a horse Wellington’s age.  Wellington’s injuries have likely caused permanent damage in some of his joints.  So now what could have been a $75,000-$100,000 horse is now, at best, a $10,000 horse and that’s only IF Wellington is able to stay sound while being trained by a truly good trainer.

Moral of the Story?

Having a trainer in another state can be problematic because (a) it’s incredibly expensive to move your horse there and back, not to mention the cost of getting yourself there and back (which you should do relatively often so you can keep up with the progress and condition of your horse); (b) it’s frustrating to conduct litigation from afar if you have to sue the trainer at some point; (c) you usually have to hire a lawyer licensed in the state where the trainer is located if you have to sue him or her because you will probably have to sue him in state court where he is located (unless your damages exceed $75,000 and then you can sue in federal court if you are residents of different states); and (d) the odds of you hearing any horror stories about an out of state trainer are much lower than if you were using a local trainer in your own state (even if a few hours away).  Also, there are a lot of horse trainers who train horses for the love of the animal or because that’s all they know and not for the money.  As a result, lots of horse trainers are not flush with cash or property which they could use to pay a judgment which you might get against them if you sue them and win.  Can’t get blood out of a turnip and all.

Sometimes there are circumstances which make sending your horse to an out of state trainer a necessity.  If that’s the case, PLEASE do some solid research on the trainer BEFORE sending your horse out to him/her, research on the facility (is it owned by the trainer? Leased?  If leased, leases end and your horse could end up somewhere not as nice) and be very thorough.  Google the trainer, run a background check on him/her, talk to lots of folks whose horses he/she has trained over the years, be sure he/she has a lot of experience (preferably several years) and good results (ask for show records), ask to see his or her trainer/instructor liability insurance policy and get the name and number of his or her insurance agent and look at the litigation records in the states where you know he/she has lived to see if he/she has been sued a lot (or at all).  And, if you can afford it, get major medical and mortality insurance on your horse before you send him or her away (and make sure your horse is covered while outside your state – they usually are (see my former post on this issue), but double check with your agent.  And go to visit your horse while he or she is in training to ensure that progress is being made and that you can SEE that progress with your own eyes and/or feel it with your own backside (if you’re a rider too).  Sending your horse off without going to physically check in on him or her is a dangerous proposition.  I would probably make it a surprise visit if you can so that you will get a real feel for how and where your horse is being kept.  A good, honest trainer will not mind if you show up anytime.  If they require lots of notice before you can come, I would be wary.

All of the concerns and suggestions stated in this post are magnified and multiplied 100 times if you are considering sending your horse out of the country for training.  Do even more to investigate the trainer and facility BEFORE agreeing to send the horse and be more picky about what you require.  It’s very, very difficult and very, very expensive to engage in litigation across borders of countries.

That’s part one of “Do You Really, Really KNOW Your Trainer” and part Two will come soon!

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.  And you can always buy the first hour of my time for $250 (my usual hourly rate for 2013 is $325).  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 my web page at www.rl-law.com/professionals/dorothy-bass-burch/ or our firm’s Equine Law Group web page at 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 advertisements for legal services.  I have to tell you that in bold, says the State Bar.

Be careful out there and Happy New Year!

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Horse & Buggy Law?

25 06 2009

Horses and buggies, horses and carriages, horses and wagons….they all evoke an image of yesteryear that most of us enjoy, especially us horse folks.  In fact, my groom and I were whisked away from our wedding reception in a beautiful carriage driven by a gorgeous Belgian draft horse named Tinkerbell.

But then reality strikes and I get a call from a potential client [we’ll call her Jane] who owns a horse and carriage company and who has a problem.  She is a retired horse trainer who now runs a little carriage business and loves it.  She goes to the town square and gives carriage rides on holidays and trailers her horse and carriage to private parties and other engagements.

Back at Christmastime she was working the town square giving sweet Christmas carriage tours of the historic district with her vintage carriage and her beautiful, bombproof Percheron mare named Angel.  Christmas music was playing and snow was falling.  It was a picture perfect sight and her passengers were mesmerized by the beautiful weather, the beautiful horse and the beautiful carriage.

Unfortunately things sometimes happen that we don’t anticipate.  A local n’er do well was buzzing down main street on his scooter (of course because he had so many DWI convictions that he had lost his driver’s license), his shoes held together with duct tape and his attitude even more ragged.  He decided it would be really funny to pop a wheelie on his scooter directly in front of Angel.  Angel and the carriage were patiently waiting at a stop light when the miscreant popped his wheelie and screamed at her like a madman.

Being the saint that she is, Angel did not bolt or rear or buck.  She jumped to the side because the noise and quick movement startled her and when a 2000 lb Percheron jumps to the side, it’s a big movement.  Most fortunately, the passengers in the carriage were fine and Angel was fine.  However, the carriage and Jane weren’t so fine because the jolt snapped one of the rear vintage wooden carriage wheels in half.   Jane was the consummate professional, checking first to assure the well being of her customers and helping them out of the carriage once she confirmed they were fine.  Then Jane went to Angel and unhitched her from the carriage and checked her out physically.  Angel was fine.  She has seen lots of scary things before and been through extensive desensitization in her training to be a carriage horse, but even the most bombproof horses get startled every now and then.  Jane was proud of Angel for doing no more than jumping to the side and talked sweetly to her to let her know she had done a good job.

Jane got the wagon home on her trailer and called me to see if there was anything she could do to recover the cost of the repairs to the wagon from the thoughtless bum who thought it would be “funny” to scare her horse to death and risk the lives of lots of people in the process.

I asked her about the perpetrator and she told me he was the town bum of sorts, told me about the duct tape on his shoes, his multiple DWI convictions and that he was a transient, living with friends until they kicked him out and then moving on to the next one willing to take him in.  I told her that wasn’t good news because I was 99.9% sure he didn’t have any liability insurance coverage and she agreed.  We talked about the possibility of perhaps his having some liability coverage if his scooter were insured, but she didn’t think his scooter was big enough to even require license tags, much less insurance.  In NC there was a bill pending that would require insurance on scooters 50cc or larger but it was pulled from the floor of the legislature back in April 2009 for lack of support.  So no liability insurance coverage on him is likely available to help, we assume.

Next I ask Jane about her business insurance policy.  She apologizes and admits that she let it lapse a few months before the incident.  I reminded her that it was SO important for her protection that she have a policy, most especially since she was carrying around customers who could theoretically get hurt.  Also, certain types of policies would cover damage to the carriage in addition to liability coverage for injuries.   Yes, there are statutory protections for equine professionals that attempt to limit your liability for equine related damage and injury, but those statutory protections aren’t foolproof and you should not rely on those statutes to protect you from liability for something your horse might do, whether or not it’s the horse’s fault.  Find a knowledgeable insurance agent familiar with equine issues, describe your activities in detail to him or her and buy as much coverage as you can afford.  Frequently the cost to buy twice as much coverage is NOT twice the premium.  Insurance gets cheaper per dollar of coverage as you get more and more, so price out the big amounts of coverage, not just the small amounts, and you’ll be surprised at how affordable more coverage can be!

So, unfortunately, it looks like Jane is going to have to foot the bill for the damage to her carriage on her own.  She could sue the guy, but he has no assets or job and so that lawsuit would likely be a waste of her time and effort, not to mention filing fees, even if she were to sue him in small claims court where you can easily represent yourself.

Moral of this story:  Be sure to have lots of insurance coverage (as much as you can afford) if you engage in any type of business that involves horses and remember to be sure you have property damage coverage in addition to liability coverage.  When they are secured properly, one will pay for damage to things and the other will pay for damage to people or businesses.

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 general questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at dburch@rl-law.com.  I used to answer quick questions for free if I could, but I am getting so many calls for free legal advice that I am having to start charging a little something for an initial chat! A good problem to have, I guess 🙂 Starting January 1, 2019, I’m going to be charging $99 for a 30 minute general question session. You won’t be engaging me as your lawyer and we won’t talk specific names because that requires conflicts checks, etc., but frequently I can help folks a lot in 30 minutes. Can’t guarantee it, but usually I can at least give you some direction or general thoughts about a general type of situation. 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.

Happy riding and be careful out there!





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 general questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at dburch@rl-law.com.  I used to answer quick questions for free if I could, but I am getting so many calls for free legal advice that I am having to start charging a little something for an initial chat! A good problem to have, I guess 🙂 Starting January 1, 2019, I’m going to be charging $99 for a 30 minute general question session. You won’t be engaging me as your lawyer and we won’t talk specific names because that requires conflicts checks, etc., but frequently I can help folks a lot in 30 minutes. Can’t guarantee it, but usually I can at least give you some direction or general thoughts about a general type of situation. 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.