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 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 2016 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.





Only YOU can Prevent Forest Fires! Before Hiring a Hauler, Insure Your Horse!

17 02 2014

Be Vigilant When Using a Professional Hauler for your Horse!

Some of us are lucky enough to have our own horse trailers and the driver’s license required to pull them. Our rig is insured and while our horse may or may not be insured, we know we will be careful with our very own precious cargo aboard. Even if we are the ones doing the hauling, it is a good idea to have full major medical and mortality insurance coverage for your horse if the horse’s value reasonably exceeds the cost of the insurance premium so that it makes financial sense to insure the horse.

However, some of us are not so lucky and are in the position of having to rely on third party haulers to get our horses from point A to point B. For some folks it’s a rare occurrence to hire a hauler and for others it’s common. The more often you use third party commercial horse haulers, the more closely you may want to read this blog entry.

First of all, remember that your personal automobile or homeowner’s or farm owner’s insurance policies do NOT cover the value of your horse if it is injured or killed in transit – whether you are hauling the horse or someone else is hauling. These types of personal policies do not typically cover the value of anything in a transport trailer, whether it is a horse or other property. There may be exceptions for certain types of personal property, but horses are typically not a covered property under these policies.

While many of us realize our personal insurance policies do not cover the value of our horse, many of us do not realize that commercial haulers are not required to have any specific amount of insurance to cover the value of the animals they are hauling. Many haulers do have insurance coverages for this purpose, but many of them do not. And of the ones who do carry the type of coverage which would pay an owner for the value of a horse which is injured or killed transit, most have very low coverages, as low as $1,000-$3,000 per head with a maximum per vehicle amount as well. If you are shipping a world champion cutting horse and it is killed in a collision, odds are that it was worth more than $3,000. Alternatively, if your world champion dressage horse is badly injured but not killed, odds are that the veterinary treatment costs will far exceed $3,000. There may be a few well insured haulers out there but, unfortunately, they are rarer than we would like, probably because good insurance coverage is cost prohibitive for them. The cheaper the cost of hauling, the less likely the hauler will have generous insurance coverage and the more likely they will have no coverage at all for your horse.

Even if your hauler has insurance which covers the loss of or injury to your horse, getting the insurance company to pay you for that loss or cost is not easy. You are then in the position of having to prove that the damage to or death of your horse was proximately caused by the covered person’s negligent actions or omissions. Proving this causation is easier said than done, especially when you are virtually never present when the injury or death occurs because the horse is usually alone with the hauler when it happens. I am reminded of a case where a client’s beautiful warmblood hunter filly prospect was being hauled from the west coast and the hauler cruelly left the filly on the trailer the first three days of the trip. He finally stopped at an equine layover facility on the east coast which happened to be owned by a veterinarian and, not surprisingly, the filly was three-legged lame when she came off the trailer. The veterinarian signed an affidavit attesting to the filly’s poor condition upon removal from the trailer and my client filed a claim with the hauler’s insurance company. The insurance company denied the claim because we could not prove to the company’s satisfaction that the injuries to the filly were caused by its insured hauler. Instead of going through the arduous process of filing a lawsuit and introducing evidence of the horse’s condition when it stepped on the trailer versus its condition when it stepped off, the client opted to drop the case when it discovered that even if it were successful in the lawsuit, the hauler had no personal or company assets (the truck and trailer both had large liens on them) and the limit of the hauler’s insurance coverage was only $3,000 per horse. After spending thousands on veterinary treatments, the client could not afford to pay lawyers to chase such a small sum of money and did not feel comfortable handling a small claims court action alone. In retrospect, of course they wish they had thought to insure the filly with major medical and mortality before she stepped foot on the trailer. If they had done so they would have been reimbursed for much of their expense.

What have we learned? If at all possible, to insure your horse with major medical and mortality for its full value before letting it step onto a trailer, whether your trailer or a third party’s trailer. If insurance is not an option for you for some reason, at least try to haul your horse yourself when you can (assuming you are an experienced, safe horse hauler) so that you have more control over the situation or be prepared to bear the loss of the horse’s value or the cost of the veterinary treatment in the event the horse is injured and survives. Make the choice today about what coverages you do or do not want so that you know what to expect in the event tragedy strikes.

If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at 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.