Should I Let My Friend Ride My Horse?

5 07 2016

You know the scenario – Oh! You have a horse? I love horses! What color is it? Can I come out and ride sometime?  

Now what do you do? You want to be a good and hospitable friend or relative, but you also want to keep your potential rider and your horse safe and not traumatized – and keep yourself free from the regret and legal liability that could come if they were to have a negative experience together.

Should you let someone ride your horse? If you are extremely conservative and want to avoid all potential liability, then the answer is no.  But if you would like to provide the opportunity for this person to ride your horse if possible (and/or perhaps you need the help keeping your horse in top physical shape) then, like most everything with potentially serious legal ramifications, the answer is “it depends.”

Why is there no easy answer to whether you should let someone ride your horse? Because the answer will depend on many circumstances. A horse and rider combination should always be a good fit. A bad fit can spell disaster for you, your horse and/or your rider – and even perhaps bystanders – human and equine.

Before allowing anyone to ride your horse, the first thing you should do is check your insurance policies to see if they cover any damages that you, your rider or your horse may suffer during such a ride. Ordinary homeowners’ policies often do not provide liability coverage for you in these scenarios. There may be umbrella policies you can buy through equine membership organizations like the United States Equestrian Federation or the North Carolina Horse Council which cover these situations, but you need to read the policy to be sure you understand what it covers or, at a minimum, ask your insurance agent (preferably in writing so you have a record of the response).

Assuming you have insurance coverage for the activity, you should also have your rider sign a liability waiver and release. Such a waiver and release is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from legal liability in this scenario. In addition to having a signed waiver and release in hand, you can enjoy the benefits of the North Carolina Equine Liability Act if you post in a visible spot where your rider will see it (and you should point it out to them!) an equine liability sign/warning in the required statutory format (in NC you can purchase the signs at http://www.nchorsecouncil.com for a very reasonable price). The sign can provide liability protections extended by statute in North Carolina to “equine activity sponsors” and “equine professionals.” If the required sign is not posted, then you cannot claim the benefits of the liability limiting statute.  Since the signs are inexpensive and easy to post, it makes sense to put up a few of these signs in prominent locations in your barn if they are not already posted.

Lastly, before putting your rider on your mount, you need to carefully evaluate your horse and the person who would like to ride your horse. Even if it is a family member and doing so will make you uncomfortable – you will need to ask this person some very direct questions. When you ask, always encourage him or her to be very conservative with his or her answers. Ideally, you could even have a form with questions listed and have this person complete it in his or her own handwriting and sign it. Your rider’s and your horse’s safety could depend on the accuracy of the answers given in response to your questions. Asking the right questions can also help protect you from legal liability in certain circumstances. Here are some examples of good questions to ask:

A.     Preliminary Evaluations of Your Horse and the Proposed Rider:

 

What are the horse’s and the rider’s temperaments, amount of training (and in what discipline(s)), skill level, soundness, fitness, health, age and size?   

  • Temperament. The temperament of the horse AND the temperament of the rider are equally important. A spooky, tentative horse may not do well with a timid, frightful rider. Likewise, a sluggish, older horse may not move at all if you put a tentative 12 year old on her. Try to achieve good matches. Good matches have a better chance of creating a good experience and lower the chances of a legal dispute. Would your laid back 70 year old dad have an enjoyable (or safe) ride on a green horse which is spooky and nervous? Or maybe he would enjoy a little spark? Again, it depends. It is up to you to investigate what everyone’s expectations are about the ride and think about what situations are best for your horse and your rider in order to ensure the horse’s and the rider’s safety (and thus minimize legal liability if something goes wrong).
  • Unique Circumstances.  Also keep in mind that while your horse may have a calm temperament, long ago he may have had a bad experience that has left him with a unique fear (of tall men, children, umbrellas, plastic bags or something else), so consider those things too when deciding whether a particular rider is suitable for your horse. And remember to assess the mood of your horse and your rider at the time of the ride because everyone can have a bad day now and then. Consult with your trainer about what he or she feels your horse needs and take care not to put your horse or rider in situations where either would be uncomfortable. Uncomfortable situations can lead to injury which can lead to potential legal liability for you.
  • Amount of Training & Discipline. A horse with very little training is never a good match for a rider with very little training. Also, a horse with a lot of training in a discipline other than the rider’s may be a bad match for that rider. Just because your rider won the last ten barrel racing championships in her state does NOT mean she is well qualified to ride a highly trained dressage horse. Personally, my favorite horse to ride is a horse which is well trained in my discipline – one who has done far more than I will ever ask him or her to do. In other words, I like for my horse to know more about my discipline than I do. Choosing that kind of mount helps to keep me safer than I would be in a scenario where I know more than the horse – because I am not a professional trainer who can help the horse learn. So remember to consider disciplines of the horse and rider before pairing them up – matching them can reduce the odds of your facing a legal dispute.
  • Health & fitness level of horse and rider. This factor probably goes without saying, but if your horse is not sound or is sick or weak or recovering from illness or injury, do not put a rider on the horse without very careful consideration and consultation with your veterinarian and trainer. Likewise, if the person who would like to ride your horse is currently ill or injured or recovering from a recent illness or injury, do not allow them to ride your horse without careful consideration of the horse’s temperament (see above) and proof of the rider’s consultation with the rider’s medical advisors as to the suitability of the rider for riding. As a lawyer, I would prefer that all my clients avoid allowing sick or injured riders ride and avoid having anyone at all ride a sick or injured horse because it seems like a recipe for legal liability if further injuries take place during the ride. If your rider has disabilities of one kind or another, work carefully with him or her and his or her physicians to make sure that the circumstances of any proposed ride will keep the rider safe and be comfortable for your horse as well. Many, many individuals with physical, cognitive or emotional challenges have enjoyed and do everyday enjoy successful rides on horses, so such challenges are not necessarily an obstacle to the ride. Just take appropriate safety precautions and stay informed of all relevant information in these situations. 
  • Size, Age and Strength Pairings. Think about the size, age and strength of your horse and your rider. If your rider is a very tall or very large person, putting him or her on a pony is probably not a great idea. That being said, there are many, many different “expert” opinions in the horse community about what appropriate weight and height limits are for horses, but the best advice is to investigate a few of those height/weight charts (most of which can be found online) – or ask your vet, use common sense and if you are not sure, do not risk it. You do not want to embarrass your rider or injure your horse by seating a person in the saddle who is too large for your horse. It could also be dangerous for your horse and/or the rider if you have a very large horse with a back so wide that were you to seat a tiny person on its back the rider’s heels would not even reach below the saddle, keeping the horse from feeling important cues from the rider’s leg. Also, if the rider does not have good physical strength, controlling a very large and strong horse with reins could be challenging or even impossible. Age is a tricky consideration because there are no general rules until you get on the ends of the age spectrum. While very young children and horses and much older adults and horses may be best suited for limited, assisted riding, the range of ability, strength and temperament makes age much less relevant to your analysis than you might think – both with regard to people and horses. Rather than focus too much on the age of a potential rider or horse, I would recommend that you focus more on the other factors discussed in this section A when deciding whether a rider and horse pairing is appropriate or is likely to result in injury to either.

B.    Details of the Ride Itself: 

  • Location, location, location. Where would the ride take place? An arena? A riding ring? A pasture? With or without other loose horses present? Along a public road? Along a level, wide and easy trail? Along a steep, treacherous trail? Or somewhere else? 
  • Environment at the location. As we know, the more chaotic or dangerous the riding environment, the higher the odds are of injury and resulting legal liability. Likewise, if the ride takes place away from your barn, there is the potential of more third parties becoming involved if there is an incident. 
  • The audience. Would an equine professional, you and/or anyone else be in the vicinity during your rider’s ride on your horse? From a legal liability perspective, I would advise never, ever allowing someone to ride your horse without you present unless it is pursuant to a lease or other legal arrangement, you have confirmed insurance coverage for you and the horse, the rider has signed a waiver and release and you are very comfortable with the horse/rider pairing. The next best thing to your being present would be to have a trainer who is very familiar with the horse be present during the ride.  The bottom line is that it would be a very bad idea to allow a person to ride your horse for the first time alone with no one else present. If something happens and no one is present to relay the course of events, that can potentially be detrimental to the health of the horse and the rider and make any necessary determination of potential legal liability very difficult if a problem arises.
  • Safety ConsiderationsAbsolutely require everyone who sits on your horse to wear an ASTM/SEI certified riding helmet. I understand that it may not be legally required in some situations and that certain riders may feel that a helmets cramp his or her style, but when it comes to someone else riding your horse, you simply must ignore this resistance and require that they wear an ASTM/SEI certified equestrian riding helmet if they want to even sit on your horse. Having this requirement in place and enforced will almost certainly help you from a legal liability perspective should a rider be injured.
  • Clear the Decks. Keeping other loose horses out of the area where your  rider will be riding your horse is also a good idea. We are all familiar with a horse’s herd mentality and rather than risk the loose horses’ behavior influencing your horse’s behavior, it is easier and safer to remove that variable from the equation in order to give your horse and rider the best odds of an enjoyable ride – and for you to lower the odds of your facing legal liability for a bad situation.

If you determine your proposed rider is an appropriate match for your horse after considering and addressing all of the above issues, try to choose a place where there is plenty of room, a calm environment (away from construction and bad weather, for example) and a time when everyone (horse and rider) is well rested, well fed and adequately prepared for the ride. Tell your rider about any quirks he or she may need to know about your horse that will make his or her ride more enjoyable and successful and keep an eye out (or have your trainer keep an eye out) for the whereabouts of your rider and your horse so that if anything goes wrong, you will know quickly and you or your trainer can get help on site as soon as possible – whether for the rider or for the horse.

Hopefully these factors are useful to you when considering, from a legal perspective, whether to allow someone to ride your horse. It is a wonderful thing when you have a good and trustworthy person who is well suited for your horse available to ride your horse for you! He or she can be a huge help to you by riding when you may not otherwise be available.

 Good luck, stay safe and happy riding!

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.





The Tangled Web of Potential Liability at Horse Shows

16 02 2015

Many of us are familiar with the scenario of a local lesson stable which teaches group riding lessons and occasionally takes a group of kids to a local horse show. Some of the kids bring their own horses, some bring horses they have leased from the stable and some kids bring horses leased from elsewhere. All the horses pile on stable-owned or parent-owned or rider-owned trailers and the kids pile in cars (or perhaps the cab of the truck trailering the horses) and everyone heads for the showgrounds.

These are the types of scenarios which make for the most fun, camaraderie and learning for the kids and their trainers and give the riders a chance to finally demonstrate in a public way all the riding skills which they have (hopefully) mastered. Shows are very exciting for everyone involved. Everyone may not get a ribbon, but everyone will learn and work hard and usually have at least a little bit of fun if not a lot of fun. Unfortunately, these typically wonderful scenarios are also the scenarios which can turn scary very quickly and can make for the most complex liability determinations in the equine legal world.

Why is a show scenario complicated from a legal perspective? Well, because so many different people are at the show in so many different roles and most of those people have valuable property with them at the show, whether it is a horse or expensive saddle, nice trailer or other items of value. Every person at the showgrounds (and some not at the showgrounds) has a “duty of care” to which the law expects them to adhere and each person might owe different duties to different people. Which duties are owed to whom by whom is determined by what role he or she is playing in the show environment. Is the person an exhibitor/participant? Is the person a show manager? A groom? Parents of exhibitors? Spectators? Trainers? Stable owners? Trailer drivers? Janitorial or cafeteria staff? Siblings of exhibitors? The list goes on and on.

Why all this fuss and focus on all these individuals? Why do we care? We care because when something happens at a horse show which causes damage to a person or property and that person or owner of that property wants to be compensated for that loss, the law gives us rules about how to determine who is responsible for that loss. And when you have a scenario such as a horse show where so many different people are present for so many different reasons, the legal rules often overlap or conflict and can get extremely confusing.

For example, let’s say that there is a 3 year old boy Jimmy sitting on a lead line pony named Misty waiting to show. Show management did not anticipate the high number of exhibitors who showed up and so the classes are crowded and moving slowly. The lead line class is the last class of the day. Jimmy’s parents put yawning Jimmy on Misty about 10pm and he is then standing in line with other exhibitors before his class enters the ring. A little girl Sally on a leased quarter horse named Red is waiting to go into the class ahead of Jimmy and realizes she has forgotten her gloves. Sally asks one of her friends Kim to hold Red while Sally runs into the barn to get her gloves. Unbeknownst to Kim, Red is an escape artist. Sensing a golden opportunity for freedom, Red yanks his reins out of Kim’s hand and takes off, bumping into Misty, who becomes annoyed and bucks. Jimmy falls off and breaks his arm. Red is happy as a lark running free and eventually ends up on neighboring property owned by private landowners Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Mr. Smith sees Red calmly grazing in his front yard and goes outside to try to catch him, despite the fact that Mr. Smith is not a horse person and does not know anything about handling horses. He just loves animals and does not want Red to get hurt because he can see that he is loose in an unfenced area. Although well-intentioned, Mr. Smith lunges at Red in an effort to grab his reins and in doing so startles Red, who takes off again and drags Mr. Smith a few feet, causing injuries. Red keeps going and runs into the road in front of the neighbor’s house and gets hit by a man on a motorcycle. Red and the motorcyclist are both injured and the motorcycle is totaled.

What a mess! But this type of scenario is not at all unusual, believe it or not. It would take me ten pages to go through all the potential liabilities for the various people who are involved here, so I will spare you the in-depth analysis. But here are a few things to think about:

The broadest interpretation of liability might say that the show management is responsible for everything because they were not adequately prepared for the number of folks who showed up for the show. Some would say they should have had a registration deadline a few days before the show started so that they could line up adequate personnel to keep the show moving. And maybe capped the number of exhibitors to an amount they could comfortably manage. Should they have moved the lead line class to earlier in the day given the young age of those participants? Because if the show hadn’t run late, then Sally would not have been standing around so long and Red and Misty would not have been so grouchy and willing to misbehave and Jimmy wouldn’t have gotten hurt and Red would not have run away. But is tracing all that back to show management an unreasonably long stretch in order to assign fault?

Perhaps Mr. Smith should be liable for Red’s and the motorcyclist’s injuries and motorcycle damage because he lunged at the peacefully grazing Red, spooking him and causing him to run into the road? If he had not lunged at Red, perhaps he could have peacefully collected Red’s reins and led him back to the showgrounds?
Is Sally liable for not telling Kim that Red was an escape artist so Kim would know to hang on to Red extra tight? Or is Red’s owner liable for leasing a horse who likes to escape?

Are Jimmy’s parents liable for his injuries because they used using poor judgment in allowing him to stay up so late for a lead line class and thus surrounding a tired and cranky little boy with lots of tired and cranky horses?
Was Sally’s trainer liable for not being on site with Sally to hold Red while Sally went for her gloves?

You see how these speculations can go on and on. It is very difficult sometimes to parce out where the liability should rest for any given harm which occurred.
So what is the lesson to be learned from this example? First, be sure you have good health, liability and property insurance (on you, your kids, your horse, your trailer and other property) in place and paid up in case something bad happens at a show – TO you, your horse, your child or your student or BY you, your horse, your child or your student. Second, make sure you only work with reputable, insured trainers and attend shows managed by reputable show managers in safe, well-maintained locations owned by trustworthy people, companies or governmental entities. Third, while at the show keep an eye on your horses, your children, your trainer and yourself for signs of stress and fatigue and when you see it, respect it and remove yourself, your child, your horse and your property from situations where they may endanger themselves or others as a result of this stress and fatigue. Use common sense to be careful and remember that the health and safety of humans and horses is paramount to and more important than any ribbon or trophy. Good luck at the shows and be safe!

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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 2015 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.





Boarding Horses is Not for the Faint of Heart

11 11 2014

Whether you are considering building a barn on your property or already have a barn on your property and are considering allowing boarders to come board horses on your property, you should think very carefully before embarking on such an adventure. Boarding horses is definitely, as the title says, not for the faint of heart. There are a myriad of issues that arise, legal and non-legal, from issues related to adequacy and safety of your facilities to temperament and safety of the animals being boarded.

The obvious concerns about personal or equine injuries which might take place on your property are probably the issue most people think of first and with good reason. Horses and ponies are large animals and it does not take much in the way of a wrong, even accidental, movement to do a lot of damage to a human being or another animal. We all know of situations where a horse kicks a dog or another horse, and that can certainly get expensive to remedy, but what is more often a concern to us is injury to people. Under certain circumstances injuries to people, especially young people, can cost a stable owner a fortune even if the stable is insured.

What do I mean? Well, children are the humans we as a society consider most precious. They have their entire lives ahead of them with what often seems like unlimited potential. It is that potential that, once squelched with death or a debilitating injury, can cost a stable owner and its insurance company (assuming the stable has liability insurance) a great deal of money to remedy. A claim for injury to a 50 year old person will in all likelihood not yield the monetary compensation that a claim for injury to a 5 year old will yield. And where there are horses and ponies, there are often children. And if you add to the mix the possibility that you are going to permit children’s group riding lessons, you have magnified the potential for injury and, at the same time, magnified your potential liability for those injuries.

In addition to the risk of human injury on site for which you could be potentially held liable, there is the risk of a horse escaping your facility and causing injury in the process, whether the animal runs into traffic and causes an accident or tramples someone off site during its escape, among other things.

Another risk relates the boarders themselves for what they may perceive as damage to their horse for which they blame you, the stable owner. Many times a disgruntled boarder has believed that the stable owner was negligent in permitting an unqualified worker to handle the boarded horses and claim that this worker did something which resulted in injury to that boarder’s horse. Maybe the barn manager read the turnout chart incorrectly and put two horses who do not get along in the same paddock by accident and one or both of them is injured. Perhaps it will not be a huge financial hit if it is a $500 retired pasture horse, but it could be a sizeable problem if the injury is to a $50,000 show horse.

Being hypervigilant at all times about the condition of your fencing and the vegetation growing in the fields and paddocks is not an easy job. If someone’s horse dies from ingesting a poisonous plant that should not have been growing in the fields, you may have a problem. If someone’s horse steps in a rabbit hole and breaks its leg, someone may claim you should have inspected the fields better for these hazards. Are they correct? Maybe or maybe not. But oftentimes it does not matter if they are correct or not because the claim will probably be made – because when a person, his child or his horse is injured, that person wants someone to blame. And if you are the stable owner, you will probably be on the list of people they would like to bear some of the blame.

However, if money is no object and you really enjoy the environment of a boarding facility and are comfortable with the risks it presents, then it may make sense for you to get into the boarding business or continue the one you have. Or if you know the risk and are of average means, but you feel you are compelled to get into or continue the business because of your love for it and you are willing to assume the risks, then it may be fine for you. Or if you live in a key location where people will pay substantial amounts for boarding services at your farm, it may make financial sense for you to enter or continue a boarding operation. But if you are an average person of average means with an average farm in an average location, you have a lot to think about. Lots of insurance coverage is an obvious necessity if you ever board even one horse and a good equine insurance agent should be the first person you call before opening your barn doors to boarders. And then a good equine lawyer so that he or she can explain to you the risks of your undertaking a boarding operation. Information is always empowering, so gather as much information on the risks of housing a horse boarding operation before you undertake it so that you are making the best decision that you can make for you and your family.

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.





Common Misconceptions and Quick Facts about Equine Mortality and Major Medical Insurance

19 10 2014

Last month I wrote about common misconceptions with farm property and liability insurance coverages. This month I am addressing equine mortality and major medical insurance in the hopes of highlighting useful information for everyone. Lisa Steller of Star H Equine Insurance Agency has been a fantastic resource for information and was a major resource for this article as North Carolina’s resident “expert” on all things equine major medical/mortality insurance related. Whereas I typically see issues on the back end after something has gone wrong, Lisa is able to help you on the front end to ensure you have the coverages you need and that you understand what losses your insurance covers and what losses it does not cover.

Let’s start with mortality insurance. Here are some points to remember:

1. While all insurance companies and all individual horse circumstances are a little different, mortality insurance on a horse usually costs about 3-4% of a horse’s value up until the horse reaches 15 years of age. For horses between 15 and 20 years of age, the premium usually runs about 5% of the horse’s value for 15 year olds to about14% of the value for 19 year olds. Finally, equine mortality insurance is typically not available for horses which are 20 years of age or older absent a very expensive, customized policy for a very specific situation.

2. Depending on the circumstances of your situation, there may be conditions or scenarios which are excluded completely from your mortality coverage. Read your policy so you are not surprised if that happens!

3. If you attempt to purchase mortality insurance on a horse for the very first time when the horse is 19 years of age, most insurance companies’ will refuse to insure that horse’s mortality. Insurance companies are understandably much more comfortable continuing to insure a 19 year old horse when they have insured that horse’s mortality for several years (and they have of course had time to collect premium from you over those years as well) than they are taking on a brand new, unknown risk at age 19.

4. Always remember that if your horse gets sick or is injured, you need to call your mortality insurance company ASAP. If you do not notify the company in a timely fashion and the horse dies, the company may be able to deny your mortality claim.

5. Mortality premiums are not usually affected by whether you have previously notified the company of your horse’s illnesses, so agents will tell us that we should not worry that advising the company of our horses’ illnesses will cause the mortality premium to go up if the horse survives the illness. Except in unusual circumstances, mortality premiums are almost always solely based upon age, use and value of the horse, not its health history.

6. One common and difficult situation: your veterinarian says the life of your horse can be preserved – but not its usefulness for your purposes. For example, you have a $20,000 champion reining horse which develops issues with his hooves. Your vet says that a certain treatment is necessary or the horse will founder and die, but the treatment the vet is recommending costs $5,000 and afterwards the horse will no longer be able to participate in reining. You may not have $5,000 or you may prefer instead to spend that $5,000 on a young, green horse which you can develop into a new reiner. If you refuse the treatment which your vet is recommending for your horse and, as a result, your horse founders and dies, your insurance company may be able to deny your mortality insurance claim because you did not elect to have the $5,000 treatment.

7. A necropsy (an autopsy performed on an animal) to determine the cause of a horse’s death is required for all equine mortality claims. This requirement stems in part from the fact that insurance companies do not want to give people an incentive to cause the death of their unwanted horses in order to collect the mortality insurance proceeds.

With regard to equine major medical insurance claims, here are some quick points to remember about this type of coverage and claims:

A. You can sometimes lower the premium cost for your equine major medical coverage by reducing the mortality value of your horse.

B. Major medical coverage premiums are roughly the same for a horse of any age or value, so whether it is 6 months old or 16 years old, worth $500 or $50,000, the premium cost is about the same. Sometimes certain of your horse’s health issues may be excluded from the policy, however. Again, read your policy.

C. Routine health maintenance costs (such as vaccinations) are typically not covered by major medical coverage, nor are veterinarians’ trip charges to your home or your boarding facility, even if your horse is sick or injured.

D. Elective surgery is typically not covered by a major medical policy – for example, complications arising from the gelding of a male horse would not be covered because that surgery is elective. You can usually, however, by paying some extra premium dollars, purchase an endorsement (i.e., additional insurance coverage) to cover elective surgeries if you so desire.

E. As with mortality coverage, major medical coverage requires that the company receive prompt notice of any injury to or illness of your horse. Leave instructions and have the company contact information posted on your horse’s stall door so that someone else at the barn can call the company in case you are not present when the illness or injury occurs.

Last but not least are a few quick facts which pertain to BOTH equine mortality and major medical insurance:

I. Your agent needs a completed and signed application for insurance in order to bind mortality or major medical coverage for you. These coverages cannot be bound over the telephone, so please do not wait to call your agent until you are in the car on the way to pick up your new horse.

II. Equine mortality and major medical coverages are for a specific animal and cannot be switched to another animal. A horse can be added to an existing policy or removed from an existing policy, however. But a new, signed application for that specific animal is required when adding a horse to an existing policy.

III. If you sell your horse, the agent or company will not revise the policy to change it to the new owner’s name. The new owner will need to complete and sign an application for coverage and pay the premium. The prior owner can then cancel the old policy and receive a pro-rated refund of the annual mortality premium and, in some limited cases, of the major medical premium as well.

IV. If a neurectomy has been performed on your horse, it is often no longer insurable for mortality or major medical.

V. Insurance is limited to the value which you paid for the horse, so if you get a $10,000 horse for $5,000, the maximum value the insurance company can place on your horse is $5,000.

Hopefully these quick tips will prove useful to you if you purchase mortality or major medical insurance coverage for any of your equines. The bottom line, as always, is to be sure to read your policy so you know what it does and does not cover.

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.





Some Common Misconceptions About Farm Insurance Coverages

24 08 2014

Occasionally I will receive a call from a horse farm owner who wants me to represent them in connection with a complaint to the North Carolina Department of Insurance because their insurance company has not paid them for a claim they believe should be covered by their insurance. Sometimes it is a claim for damage to property. Sometimes it is a claim related to teaching riding lessons. Sometimes it involves other types of claims. What I often find is that people believe that they have coverage only to find out when it is too late that they do not. How do we prevent this situation? By using a reputable insurance agent who is familiar with the type of insurance you need, by disclosing everything you plan to do at your farm to that agent in writing, by asking good questions of the agent to make sure you understand the coverages and by keeping notes on what is and is not covered under your insurance policy so you can decide with your agent’s help whether there might be different, additional insurance policies you may want to purchase.

When discussing these sorts of issues I frequently call on my friends and experts in the equine insurance area, Lucinda and Butch Human of Star H Equine Insurance in Advance, North Carolina. Lucinda and Butch have been selling equine insurance to horse and farm owners/lessees in the Southeast for decades and have a vast amount of knowledge on the subject. After discussing these matters with them in preparation for this article, I have the following thoughts to offer anyone who carries any type of equine-related insurance, whether it is farm insurance, instructor insurance, mortality insurance or another coverage.

Once you have found a reputable agent experienced with equine insurance, tell them everything you plan to do at your farm (e.g., pasture horses, grow hay, breed horses, board horses, teach lessons, etc.). And do it in an email if possible so that it is in writing so there will be no confusion about what you remembered to tell the agent. Also, you both will have that email to reference in the future if you want to be sure you have addressed everything which needs to be covered. If there are particular concerns about which you are worried, ask questions of your agent. The agent would much rather you ask questions in the beginning when placing the insurance coverage than find out the hard way when you have a claim that something is not a covered risk. Take notes on the agent’s answers to your questions or hang on to the email if the agent responds via email.

This month’s article will focus on misconceptions which are common on the property insurance side of things. Next month we will address misconceptions about other types of equine-related coverages (e.g., instructor coverage, mortality coverage and others).
What kinds of coverage might you be surprised to know you do NOT have with a typical farmowner’s or homeowner’s policy? Well, that is hard to say because folks have differing ideas of what they think is covered under these policies. Generally speaking, though, here a few examples of things which some people believe are covered under their policies but may not be:

1. Fencing – if your fencing around your pastures is damaged, your basic farmowners/homeowners’ policies do not pay to repair that damage. You can purchase separate fence insurance, but it is not something which is automatically covered by the common farmowners/homeowners’ policy.

2. Certain Downed Trees – If a storm blows a tree down on your farm, unless it lands on a covered structure, none of the cost to cut it up and haul it away is covered by your basic farmowners/homeowners’ insurance policy. Even if it is partially on a covered structure, the insurance company may only be required to remove that portion of the tree (limb, etc) which is actually touching the structure.

3. Barns and other Outbuildings Not Scheduled – Be sure to schedule all the structures on your property, from the barn to the run in out in the pasture to the tool shed by the pond. If a structure is not specifically scheduled (listed) on your policy so that it is clear it is expressly covered, you run the risk of it not being covered, so be sure to tell your agent about all your outbuildings!
Hopefully this information has been useful and will help us remember some of the things which are and are not covered by a standard farmowners/homeowners insurance policy. We can also strive to: (a) remember to find a knowledgeable agent when buying any insurance, especially equine-related insurance; (b) advise your agent in writing of all the structures on your property and all the activities you plan to pursue (or allow other to pursue) on your property; (c) ask any questions about coverage before buying the insurance; (d) confirm you understand the answers from your agent; and (e) request the agent respond via email with the answers so you have a written account of what you told them and what they told you. These simple steps will serve to make everyone’s lives easier rather than trying to recollect conversations from months ago during a claims situation.

Insurance exists for virtually any risk you would like covered, you just have to ask. Certain custom coverages may be very expensive and cost-prohibitive, but creative agents can find almost any coverage you would like to have given a few days. So think about your biggest concerns on your farm and/or about your horse and talk with your agent to be sure you are as covered as you can comfortably afford to be!

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.





When Buying a Horse, Think Google, Vet Exam and Trial Period

5 06 2014

While I understand that common wisdom in some areas is (and maybe history bears out) that there are lots of horse sellers who are less than honest when selling a horse, I contend that (a) nowdays there are more honest horse sellers than there are dishonest ones; and (b) times have changed for the bad guys because buyers are becoming more educated and have instant access to a vast amount of information about Sellers and horses through technology (Google, Facebook, online registries, etc.) than ever before. The bottom line – and good news – is that it is much more difficult to lie about a horse you are selling – and correspondingly buyers are entering equine transactions better informed than they have ever been. Of course, buyers must take advantage of the great well of information that is now available to them and research the seller and the horse and even prior owners of the horse if possible. Remember that information is power and nowhere else is that more true than when negotiating equine sales transactions.

First, Buyer decides to buy a horse. Usually potential buyers look first to people they know in the horse world, often their trainer or stable owner/manager, to find out about potential horses for sale. And usually that is a great place to start. But do not assume that is always true. Think about your trainer or stable owner/manager. Has he/she been in your area or discipline for many years with a great reputation? I would suggest before assuming anything, you “google” anyone you are considering asking about a horse. Frankly, I always “google” a person’s name and the word “mugshot” just in case. And search their name on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Sounds awfully nosey, I know, but you would be stunned at the number of times I have discovered extremely relevant and important information on a potential horse seller, prior owner, broker or trainer by doing these searches.

Second, I search USEF, AQHA, Jockey Club or other applicable registry to obtain the horse’s history and verify its registration and make sure other facts match up as told to me by the Seller (horse’s show record, lineage, age, height, markings) and to make sure that the records I am reviewing are for the same horse as the one being sold. Many clients have come to me thinking they were buying one horse whose show record was stellar only to discover later that the horse they purchased was not the same horse whose show record had been provided to them. And when that realization comes, of course the seller and/or broker are nowhere to be found. Also, be sure to speak with the horse’s current and historical veterinarian and get a release from the Seller allowing you to see all the horse’s vet records. And look at them and share them with your own veterinarian BEFORE your vet conducts the prepurchase examination on the horse – whether it is a basic, moderate or extensive examination. As I have mentioned before, if it does not make sense to pay for blood testing (usually it does, however), at least pay to have the blood drawn ($50-$75 usually) and professionally stored in case you get the horse home and in a month something goes terribly wrong and you want to run some blood tests at that point to check for prior drugging, disease, etc.

Third, study how the horse is currently worked and stabled. Does he have ten hours of turnout per day on ten acres with one other horse and never works? Is he worked every day and turned out in a paddock for an hour a day? What does he eat? Does he have allergies? Does he crib or have other bad habits? Is he accustomed to dogs running loose in the barn? And on and on. Find out everything you can about this horse from anyone whom you can find who knows something. Even though the information you receive may not all be 100% accurate, remember that information is power. That does not mean you believe everything you hear, just that you collect as much as you can and then filter through it yourself and draw your own conclusions about the horse. And, if you have access, always seek advice from professionals in the industry to see what they have to say and give their views whatever amount of weight you deem appropriate.

One last thing I will mention is that one of the best protections you can have is a trial period during which you have the horse at your stable but do not own him yet and have not yet paid for him (although some sellers will require a deposit be paid up front in order to take a horse on trial). Different disciplines are known for not permitting or for permitting or for encouraging trial periods. Regardless of what is typical in your discipline, do your best to convince the seller to give you a trial period of at least a couple of weeks (preferably a month or two) to see how the horse does with your rider and your barn and your other horses, if applicable. Even if the Seller requires a nonrefundable deposit payment, if you discover during the trial period that the horse will not adapt well to your environment or is not suited for your rider, you will be ever grateful that you negotiated a trial period and can send the horse back to his owner.

Moral of the story: Be careful! Be your own detective BEFORE YOU PAY ANY MONEY to verify the horse’s identity and habits, current environment and health history. And if you can, negotiate a trial period during which you can assess the horse’s suitability for your stable and rider so that if it is not a good match, you can return him to his owner and move on to greener pastures!

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.





Horses Don’t Sleep in the Bed with You, Right?

8 04 2014

Okay, so I know I promised this month’s post would be about buying a horse, but I am pushing that one until May because this issue has been gnawing at me intellectually….so this post is kind of a philosophical one…sorry to get all “woo woo” on you, but I just need to get this stuff out there…the musings of a lawyer? I know, B-O-R-I-N-G – just indulge me this once please…

As chair of the American Bar Association’s Equine Law Subcommittee, I often note how different our subcommittee is from the others within the Animal Law Committee – the Committee of which we are a part. Most members of the Animal Law Committee are devoted and accomplished companion animal (cat/dog, etc.) or wildlife proponents. Some would say they are “animal rights lawyers,” which is wonderful, but the issues which arise in equine law are not typically the same sorts of issues which arise with regard to companion animals – or even with regard to wild animals. There is some overlap, of course, such as anti-cruelty laws and wildlife protection of certain equine species like the wild mustangs of the American West, but there are more issues that are different for equines and dogs/cats/wildlife than those which are the same.

Most horse people are dog and cat people too, I find. Heck, most of us just love animals generally. Except for spiders and snakes, of course. Yes, I know they are God’s creatures and all and are a necessary part of our ecosystem, but hardly anyone loves them, whether a horse lover or not. But I digress. In reality, many of us horse folks find being around animals preferable to being around some people we know! Animals are always honest and with them you know where you stand. They may not always be “nice,” but they are not typically “fake” either. What you see is mostly what you get – aside from the seemingly sweet pony who turns and bites the fire out of you when you are tightening that girth. Or cat who purrs and rubs against your hand only to stop suddenly and give you a little “love” bite. But dogs and cats and maybe the occasional pot-bellied pig or ferret might sleep in the bed with you. Horses do not generally sleep in the bed with their owners. So while many of us love all types of animals, us horse folks know horses are, well, different.

Equine laws straddle lots of areas outside of what the public thinks of as “animal law.” For example, Agricultural Law sounds like it might include some equine law, does it not? After all, horses typically live on a farm. Just like cows and goats. But just as horses are different from dogs and cats and wild animals, horses are also different from other agricultural livestock as well. We do not usually train and ride our cows and goats. We do not usually have our cows’ and goats’ hooves trimmed every six weeks or clip their fur so that they have a cute little heart of fur on their rumps. We do not usually have as close a personal relationship with our cows and goats as we do with our horses – although I am sure there are those of us out there who may. So when we speak with the North Carolina Farm Bureau, for example, a huge and beloved horse industry proponent and friend, they hear different concerns from us than when they speak with the cow industry people or the sheep industry people. Some would say equines are the most unique of the farm livestock in terms of the variety of laws which affect them. So it can make it hard to build alliances with the other livestock people because our primary legal concerns as horse people are often not the same as theirs.

For what purpose do most of us use our equines? Some of us use them as farm equipment to genuinely help contribute to the production at that particular farm. But far more of us use equines for a sport – whether it is racing, reining, showing, trail riding, vaulting, jumping, hunting, eventing, dressage, harness racing, polo or other sport. What does that fact tell us? That another area of law equine law straddles is Sports & Entertainment Law. In fact, the most complex regulations affecting equines probably exist in this context. The same type of performance-enhancing drug scandals which permeate baseball and other sports are just as present in the equine world. That fact gives rise to scores of regulations and oversight required by government and industry watchdog groups. Some of the biggest court battles in equine history have been in the context of Sports & Entertainment Law. And again, horses are different from any other piece of sports equipment. After all, they are alive. Aside from dog sled racing and a few other exceptions, animals are not generally considered to be sports equipment and the laws surrounding sports do not contemplate the equipment being a living being. So there has developed a special, narrow type of Sports & Entertainment law which deals specifically with equine issues and the regulation of the treatment and use of the equines in those sports or entertainment venues.

So what does all this mean? The fact that horses are special, are unique, have to be given specific consideration in a variety of legal contexts, just a few of which we have discussed here? Well, it means that we have to remember that there are lots of places we have to go to find all the laws that govern our care, use and ownership of equines. And it means that we equine lovers are incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to interact and, for some of us, live with some amazingly beautiful and complex animals whose uses are so varied and whose characteristics are so unique that they must be addressed in many different legal contexts. Keep that in mind as you acquire, care for or transfer your or others’ amazing equine assets.

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 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.





When Selling a Horse, Think Full Disclosure!

25 03 2014

We have all seen it before with friends, family and maybe even ourselves:

Stage One: Seller decides to sell a horse. Buyer wants a horse, comes and tries Seller’s horse and likes it. Buyer has pre-purchase veterinary examination done on the horse (or maybe does not have one done if the horse has low purchase price that keeps it from being cost effective to have a pre-purchase examination). The pre-purchase examination, if done, does not show anything significant. Seller says he or she knows of no problems with the horse and Buyer then buys the horse from the Seller.

Stage Two: Buyer gets the horse to his home stable or boarding barn and within the first few days or weeks Buyer notices health or behavioral issues with the horse. Buyer is unhappy and contacts Seller about returning the horse for a refund. Or Buyer asks Seller to reimburse Buyer for expenses which Buyer has incurred in his or her efforts to correct the health and/or behavioral issues with the horse. Seller saw no problems with the horse before Buyer took the horse away and, in fact, may believe that something about the Buyer’s boarding situation or treatment of the horse is giving rise to this health or behavioral issue and so declines to give Buyer a refund or to reimburse Buyer for expenses. So here we are – at an impasse. What next?

Stage Three: this stage is where things usually get sticky. If the Seller has provided veterinary records to the Buyer and given the Buyer an opportunity for a pre-purchase examination and either one was not done – or the one which was done showed no issues- then as long as the Seller has disclosed anything which might be reasonably relevant to a Buyer (injuries, illnesses, bad habits, bad behaviors, rider injuries and the like), than the Seller needs to decide whether he or she wants to take the horse back. Sometimes Sellers love the horse, can afford to and would rather take it back and give the Buyer a full or partial refund than have the horse with someone who does not want the horse. But if that is not the case and a Seller makes full disclosure and gives adequate opportunity for the Buyer to have the horse checked out, then a Seller is certainly within his or her rights to refuse to (a) unwind the sale transaction or (b) reimburse the Buyer.

That being said, if the Seller has not been totally forthcoming about all issues with the horse about which the Seller is aware, then the Seller may want to refund the Buyer and take the horse back or face some difficult questions in court if the Buyer pursues the Seller in that venue. Seller’s reputation could also be at stake if Buyer chooses to share his unpleasant story with third parties. Sometimes it is more important to a Seller to maintain a stellar reputation in the horse community than it is to prove he or she is right in a particular sales transaction with a particular horse. That being the case, sometimes a Seller will refund money and take a horse back even when he or she really has done nothing wrong from a legal perspective. Lots of different factors come into play in these situations. Is the Buyer well known as a good, honest person? Is the Buyer known to be difficult? Is the Buyer a family member or family friend? Is the horse widely known for being chronically lame or is the horse widely known to be tough as nails? Is the veterinarian who did the pre-purchase examination a friend of Seller who will be sued for a faulty pre-purchase examination if the Seller refuses to unwind the sale? Can the horse’s issue be rehabilitated by the Seller? There are lots of questions the Seller needs to ask him or herself. Depending on the answers to these types of questions, the Seller may decide to refund the Buyer – or not refund the Buyer.

If a Buyer requests a trial period with the horse before finalizing the sale, I advise Sellers to check out the location where the Buyer is taking the horse to be sure the Seller is comfortable with the personnel on duty at that location and the overall safety of that location for the horse. Absent some reason not to, Sellers with horses out on trial should require that the horse on trial be on individual turnout (alone with no other horses) during the trial period so that the risk of the horse being injured is minimized as much as possible. There are two schools of thought on trial periods. Some Sellers feel like it weeds out earlier the people who will end up wanting to send the horse back and it’s a good idea which saves time in the long run. Other Sellers feel that their horse is placed at risk when it leaves their farm and they do not want to risk injury to the horse (or liability for the horse should it injure someone or something) by allowing a trial period so they do not allow them. Both schools of thought are valid, so it again is up to the individual Seller to determine what makes the most sense to him or her on this issue.

How to minimize the number of these sticky situations for Sellers?

While we cannot guarantee a Seller will never have a disgruntled buyer even if every precaution in the world is taken, there are things Sellers can do to help prevent these situations. If the Seller can afford it and it makes financial sense (i.e., the more valuable the horse, the more sense it makes), I recommend having the horse examined by a veterinarian before listing it for sale so that you can produce a vet report to potential buyers when they approach you and advertise the horse “as is, where is, with all faults,” while offering potential buyers the opportunity to have the horse examined for themselves as well. Also good protection for Sellers is an excellent sales contract drafted by an equine lawyer in the Seller’s state which sets out in detail the terms of the sales transaction, provides that Buyer has had the opportunity to have the horse examined by a veterinarian and also has a place in the contract for the Buyer to initial a statement which says: (a) the horse is being sold “as is, where is, with all faults;” (b) if the Buyer declines to have an examination done, Seller is not responsible for any issues that arise after the sale; and (b) Seller has disclosed all issues with the horse which are known to him or her, but that Seller is not making any guarantees with regard to the health or behavioral issues of the horse. Such language in a sales contract will help to protect Sellers somewhat and will hopefully remind Buyers of the importance of a pre-purchase veterinary examination of a purchase prospect.

Next month’s article will be about what to think about when you are buying a horse!

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 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.





When You are Dealing With Horses Across State Lines, Be More Cautious Than Usual

16 10 2013

Oftentimes the horse you are considering buying or leasing is in another state. Or perhaps you need to send your horse for treatment or training in another state. Or you regularly show your horse in another state. What is the legal impact of crossing state lines in those situations? The various issues that can be impacted are many more than this article could cover in the allotted space, but hopefully we have highlighted some common concerns for you. Examples always seem to help illustrate these types of issues best, so we will use a few here.
Imagine that you live in North Carolina and you are looking for the perfect reining horse. You find an amazing two year old gelding prospect with a stellar lineage in Wyoming. His price is high, $75,000, but the Seller is a well-known and successful trainer who is willing to keep him for 6 months and put him into her intensive training program for you before sending him to North Carolina. Thrilled with your find and the proposed terms of the transaction, you hire a reputable, local Wyoming veterinarian to conduct a thorough prepurchase examination on him, including radiographs of all four legs and feet and he checks out beautifully. You make arrangements with the Seller to pay for him and for her to start him in her training program. Then you line up a shipper from Colorado to pick him up and bring him to North Carolina in six months on one of his regularly scheduled routes to the east coast.
What can go wrong?
Example #1: When the gelding arrives in North Carolina, he is fine at first and then goes lame on the left front. Your North Carolina vet checks him out, takes radiographs and advises you that he has significant navicular concerns and that there is no way that the Wyoming vet could have missed these concerns if he had truly conducted a thorough prepurchase examination with the radiographs you requested.
So it appears here you were the victim of veterinary malpractice.
Example #2: When the gelding arrives in North Carolina he is sound, but based upon his physical condition and his lack of education, he does not appear to have been in a training program for the last six months. The Seller claims he was in training and that you simply do not understand how to ask him to do what he has been taught to do.
So it appears that the Seller has failed to provide the training promised and thus has breached your agreement with her.
Example #3: You get a call when the shipper picks up the gelding after his six months of training and he confirms the horse is in great condition when the Seller puts him on the shipper’s trailer. The Seller contacts you and also lets you know the horse is in perfect condition when he gets on the trailer and even takes pictures on her iPhone and texts them to you so you can see how beautiful he is when he is boarding the trailer. The shipper advises you that it will be at least 3 days before he can get the gelding to North Carolina because of the distance and the need to stop and stable the horse overnight along the way. You try to contact the shipper every few hours to check on the horse and after the first day the shipper stops returning your calls or providing you with updates. You become concerned and the next telephone call you get is from a veterinarian in Lexington, Kentucky who owns an equine layover facility. Apparently your gelding was delivered to the facility for an overnight stay and when he was taken off the trailer he was three-legged lame with multiple lacerations all over his face and legs. The veterinarian asked the shipper what happened and he claims that the horse would not climb off the trailer for the last 36 hours so he just left him on and the horse apparently became agitated and thrashed around inside the trailer, hurting himself. In short, your gelding ends up spending a week in Lexington at an equine specialty hospital being treated for multiple injuries caused by the excessive time on the trailer before he can come home to North Carolina – and even then he may never be sound again. And because of the trailer trauma, the gelding understandably now has an intense fear of trailering and will have to be tranquilized in order to get him on any trailer in the future.
So this time the Seller is not at fault, but a shipper from Colorado has been negligent in shipping him and has caused harm to your horse.
The Common Thread
The common thread here is that you have a real, valid legal claim against another person or company who resides in (or is based in) another state. Can you sue someone in another state? Absolutely! You can certainly sue where he or she is located and maybe where you are located, depending on his or her relationship with your state (whether they do business there or have other types of connections there). And since the amount of your damages is arguably over $75,000, you may be able to sue in federal court as well if you and the potential defendant reside/are headquartered in different states.
So what is the problem? The problem is that is incredibly expensive to sue someone, period. And especially so in another state or in federal court. But when you add thousands of miles to the picture (or the complexity of federal litigation), the dollar signs keep increasing. Definitely in Example #1 (and perhaps all the examples) you will need to hire an expert to testify on your behalf about what was the proper thing for the defendant to do in your situation. Experts are typically very expensive (several hundred dollars an hour).
Also, in lawsuits you engage in something called “discovery” which involves, among other things, taking depositions of key individuals in the case. To take someone’s deposition, you are generally required to go where that person resides. That could mean traveling with your lawyer (who is also expensive) to Colorado or Wyoming (and perhaps Kentucky in Example #3). Out of state depositions typically cost anywhere from $2,000-$5,000 per person by the time you factor in all related expenses.
The bottom line is that pursuing someone in another state is extremely expensive, so you should take as many precautions up front as possible to make sure you minimize the chance of a legal claim (e.g., have two different veterinarians do pre-purchase examinations if the horse is expensive; buy health and mortality insurance on the horse before shipping; carefully research shippers and check several of shipper references; and buy travel insurance for the trip from Wyoming to North Carolina). In short, be very, very careful when entering into transactions over state lines so you can avoid the stress and heavy expense of an interstate legal dispute.

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 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 advertisements for legal services.





NC Liens for the Care of Horses

19 06 2013

The two most common calls I seem to be receiving these days in my equine practice are from people who (a) have had horses left in their care for which they are not being paid board or (b) have allowed someone else to keep their horses only to find out later that the person has given away or sold or euthanized their horse without their knowledge or permission.

This article addresses the former situation. You have a horse on your property and the owner or other possessor of the horse (lessee, family member, etc.) is not paying the agreed upon boarding fees. What can you do? Well, assuming you have an agreement for how much they are supposed to pay you for board (written agreements are obviously best, but an oral agreement, especially if made in front of a witness, can be okay too), you may be able to successfully assert a boarding lien, also known as an agister’s lien or a stablemen’s lien, on the horse in your possession.

The statutes that you need to read are N.C. Gen. Stat. Section 44A-2 through 44A-6. You can find them at http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/Statutes/Statutes.asp. Just put “44A” in the top search box. These statutes explain how to go about asserting a lien on a horse in your care when you aren’t being paid proper board for the animal. Basically they provide, in summary, that if you board animals for people for pay and you don’t get paid, you have a preferential lien on that animal so long as you don’t voluntarily give up possession of the animal and so long as you follow the requirements of those statutes. The statutes provide that once you have not been paid for a period of 30 days you may begin the process to assert your lien on the animal. After 30 days of not being paid you can serve a notice on the owner of the animal (or person with whom you dealt regarding the animal) that contains very specific factual information set out in the statute and giving them ten days from the day that they receive the notice to respond via certified mail and, if they disagree with your assertion of the lien, to request a hearing before the court to determine whether you have a lien. If they do not request such a hearing and you have met all statutory requirements, then you will be entitled to sell the animal at a public or private sale, depending on the situation. Typically a public sale is better because you are permitted to buy at that type of sale whereas you cannot buy the horse yourself at a private sale.

Once you’ve reached the point where you are permitted to sell the animal, you have to give notice of the sale to the owner (or person with whom you dealt regarding the animal) and that notice has to contain very specific information as well. If you follow the letter of the statute properly with regard to all the notices and the sale itself, the buyer at the sale will take title to the horse free and clear of any liens and the proceeds of the sale will pay, first, your reasonable expenses in pursuing the debt (the statute does not include attorney’s fees specifically, but you may have an argument that you are entitled to them), second, the past due boarding obligation owed for the animal’s board and care; and last, any surplus must be paid to the owner (or person with whom you dealt regarding the animal) or, if you cannot find him or her, into the clerk of court for the county in which you have been boarding the horse.

This is of course a very simplified summary of the law regarding liens on boarded animals, but hopefully it has given you a flavor of how the lien process works. And we are of course assuming here that you can actually find buyers to come to your sale if you have one. Right now there is a surplus of horses and in many situations, even where the statutory procedure is followed perfectly, there will be no buyers present at the sale to bid on the horses being sold. If that is the case then you’re still unfortunately out of luck when it comes to that horse. If you’re having a public sale, you can bid in at the amount of your damages and the horse becomes yours. That may be good or that may be bad, depending on your perspective (and the horse!). Then you have a choice to make about whether you keep the horse for yourself or donate the horse to USERL or similar organization. In some cases, I have had clients who asserted a lien on a horse which was left at their property without payment, sold the horse at a public sale, had to buy the horse themselves for the amount of their lien (basically just forgiving the debt to themselves) and ended up selling the horse to a buyer in another state whom they strategically located and contacted about the horse because of that animal’s specific attributes. That is a rarity, of course, but can actually happen and it is truly wonderful when it does!

My recommendation is to hire a good equine lawyer at least for the first time you decide to assert a boarding lien on a horse in your care. Once you’ve been guided through the process once by a legal professional and developed an internal procedure for asserting such a lien, the next time you just might be able to handle it all by yourself!

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 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 advertisements for legal services. I have to tell you that in bold, says the State Bar.