Halters, Collars and a Quarter Ton

15 07 2014

It comes as no surprise to most horse people when I say horses are not like dogs. Beyond the fact one wears a halter and one wears a collar, there is often a quarter ton difference between the weight of a dog and the weight of a horse. That is quite a large weight disparity. And that is just where the differences begin – with the obvious physical differences we can see with the naked eye.
I know “horses are not like dogs” seems like a statement of the obvious, but I have had several cases where folks are deliberately or innocently or deliriously or naively, depending on the person and the situation, trying to equate the responsibilities of horse owners to protect themselves and others against the many risks inherent with owning, possessing or using a horse with the responsibilities of dog owners to protect themselves and others from the risks inherent with owning, possessing or using dogs. Can both horses and dogs be dangerous? Absolutely. Can they both seriously injure or kill humans? Absolutely. Generally speaking, on average, setting aside the specific temperament of a particularly gentle and slow moving horse and a particularly nasty, aggressive dog, is the risk of serious injury or death higher when we are in the company of horses than it is when we are in the company of dogs? Absolutely. There is just no getting around the fact that there is more risk of physical harm to people and things when they are interacting with the average horse than there is when they are interacting with the average dog.
While horse owners and dog owners can be equally protective and defensive about their beloved animals, it is much more troubling to me when a horse owner openly refuses to acknowledge that there are risks inherent in equine activities, risks that are present primarily because of the sheer size of the animals and the inherent nature of horses as prey animals with a herd mentality. There are hundreds of books written on the subject, from the esteemed natural horsemanship experts’ materials to Cherry Hill’s well known book “How to Think Like a Horse” which eloquently explains typical horse behaviors and the evolutionary reasons behind them. Much of what these writings say teaches us that we, as horse lovers, have to be respectful and patient with the fact that for thousands of years horses have evolved in a way so as to avoid being eaten by a predator. Hyper-vigilant senses of sight, hearing and smell are just some of the adaptations which enable horses to better survive in the wild. When we domesticate horses, these traits do not disappear. And these tendencies can be frustrating and scary to experience first hand, as most of us who have been with a horse when it becomes frightened can attest. While dogs certainly can act out when they are frightened, (a) we are as a society more accustomed to dealing with fearful dogs; (b) dogs are usually smaller than we are; and (c) it is easier to defend yourself against a dog should that become necessary. When a horse is frightened, you can quickly have over 1000 pounds hurtling towards (or away from) you at 25 miles per hour within a matter of seconds.
You get the point. Why do I bring up this issue? Because we horse folks need to always remember that there are many, many, many more dog people/cat people/bird people and other non-horse people than there are horse people in the world. Many people equate horses with other pets in their mind without really thinking about it and do not understand fully or appreciate fully the dangers of being around horses. So, it is incumbent upon us – the relatively few folks who understand these risks – to protect the uneducated and unaware public from harm when we reasonably can. For their benefit, but for our own benefit as well. And we have to do more than dog/cat/bird/guinea pig people have to do in order to protect and educate others about the risks of their animals. Why? Because the potential for disaster is so much greater with an animal of the size and mindset of a horse. I am not suggesting we horse folks need launch an educational campaign to educate non-horsey folks about all things horse-related, just that we think about providing, at a minimum, basic education to those who will share space with our horses in order to raise awareness of the risks inherent with being in the company of horses. Ideally, we also give people who are unfamiliar with horses some suggestions for cautions to follow and risky behaviors to avoid. In fact, if you read your equine liability insurance policy (which you should have if you own, lease or use horses in any way), chances are it requires you to take some basic precautions and provide some basic education and notice of certain risks to the general public who comes into contact with your horses.
Just as the owner of a vicious guard dog posts a “Beware of the Dog” sign as a reasonable precaution to protect the unwary, we too need to take precautions to protect the unwary from the risks associated with our horses, the vast majority of whom are the opposite of vicious. Although most horses are loving and gentle animals, they are hardwired to react quickly to ensure self-preservation and any time something that weighs 1,000 pounds (or 500 pounds or 1,500 pounds) moves quickly, it can cause significant damage to people and property and that is the crux of how horses really are not “just like dogs.”

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.

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What if my horse dies away from home?

17 02 2012

To continue in our theme of equine insurance related matters, let’s talk about the scenario where your horse passes away while boarding somewhere other than your home stable.

I was recently asked if equine mortality insurance would pay an otherwise valid death claim where a horse died while stabled somewhere away from home, such as at a horse show or at a lessee’s facility (if you’ve leased out the horse).  That was a very good question.  According to Lucinda Human, owner of Star H Equine Insurance of Advance, North Carolina, most all equine mortality policies provide mortality coverage if the animal dies anywhere in the continental United States.  For additional premium, you can obtain shipping and overseas coverage as well.  However, Lucinda and I both suggest that if you plan to send your horse anywhere away from home, you take a close look at your policy (or have a professional review it for you) just to double check to see if the horse is covered where it will be stabled and whether you have any obligation to notify the company in the event you relocate the animal.

If you have further equine insurance related questions or needs, checkout Star H’s website at www.starhinsurance.com.  Lucinda Human would be happy to speak with you as well and help you determine what coverages you need based upon your personal situation.

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 2012 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 www.rl-law.com 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.

Happy Riding!





Read Read Read those Equine Insurance Policies!

29 12 2011

Interesting question just arose recently and I thought I would share some thoughts on it….

There are many different types of insurance someone involved with horses might obtain.  Equine Mortality, Equine Liability, Equine Instructor and on and on.  If you can think of it, it probably exists somewhere already OR can be created by what we call a “surplus lines” insurance carrier (Lloyd’s of London is the surplus lines carrier which most folks have heard of – they basically “create” all sorts of unique policies for unique situations – for example, these “hole in one” contests you see at golf courses are frequently insured so that if someone makes a hole in one the charity or golf course doesn’t have to fork out the prize money – and surplus lines carriers like Lloyd’s of London usually write these kinds of unique, unconventional policies).

So, now that we’ve established you can buy insurance for virtually any risk you can conceive, you need to be sure that what you’ve bought covers the risk you’re concerned about and if it doesn’t, you need to either (a) expand your coverage and request an endorsement or additional policy to cover that risk or (b) don’t engage in activities that would give rise to the uncovered risk.

What does all that mean in plain old American English?  Well, let me give you an example.  A while ago I had a client who was a riding instructor.  Let’s call her Stephanie.  Stephanie, very responsibly, purchased an “Instructor’s Liability” insurance policy.  She thought she was good to go.  Time goes on, Stephanie pays the premiums on the policy and feels good about her coverage.  She has a student, we’ll call her Annie, who owns a horse.  We’ll call the horse Chief.  Annie doesn’t have enough time to ride Chief so she asks Stephanie about whether Stephanie knows anyone who might like to half-lease Chief and ride him 3 days a week.  Stephanie has several other students who don’t own horses and usually just ride lesson horses owned by the stable.  After Stephanie mentions Annie’s situation to them, one of her other students, Jane, decides she would like to try Chief to see if she might like to half-lease him from Annie.  Stephanie tells Annie that Jane might be interested and Annie gets very excited and asks Stephanie when Jane might be able to come sit on Chief and try him out.  Stephanie talks with Jane and the three of them agree to come out to the stable on a Saturday so that Jane can try Chief and Stephanie can watch Jane ride Chief and see if she thinks they are a good match and then advise Annie of her thoughts on the issue.

Well, you probably already guessed that the trial ride didn’t go well.  When Jane tried to climb on Chief (even with the aid of a mounting block), she somehow managed to pull Chief down on top of her, crushing her ankle.  Stephanie and Annie were in shock, having never seen such a thing occur in all their many years of riding (nor have I, for that matter).  Of course they immediately ran to Jane’s aid and helped get Chief up and off of her and called 911.  Jane went to the hospital and had her ankle set and put in a cast.  Now she’s suing Stephanie, Annie and the owner of the stable where she tried Chief for the medical bills, lost wages from having to be out of work as well as for pain and suffering.

Stephanie originally wasn’t overly concerned because she knew she had insurance and so she called her insurance company to report the lawsuit.  They hired a lawyer to advise Stephanie (us) and we thought things were okay.  Then, after their initial analysis of the situation the insurance company called and told Stephanie that they were sorry but this incident was not covered by Stephanie’s insurance policy because it did not occur in the course of Stephanie acting as an instructor.  In other words, if Jane had scheduled a riding lesson with Stephanie and this had happened when Jane went to get on Chief for her lesson, it would be covered.  But because Stephanie was just there to watch Jane ride Chief to assess their compatibility as horse and rider, and not as Jane’s instructor, it wasn’t covered.  A very technical distinction, but the different was night and day to Stephanie.

Needless to say, this denial of coverage has been financially devastating for Stephanie, who has had to pay a lawyer out of her own pocket to defend the lawsuit.  Like most riding instructors, Stephanie does not make a huge salary.  Her only other choice was not to fight the lawsuit and then end up with a default judgment against her for the full amount of the damages claimed by Jane.  That judgment could potentially follow Stephanie around for the next 20 years, so she felt like she had no choice but to fight the lawsuit.

Moral of the story:  Read your insurance policies carefully.  Make sure they cover all the situations you’re worried about and if they don’t, talk with your insurance agent about getting more coverage for the things you are concerned about.  And, if you can’t afford the additional coverage, you may have to decide not to participate in certain activities because they are not covered by your insurance policy.  Stephanie now wishes she had not agreed to watch Jane ride Chief because just the simple act of her being present has resulted in Stephanie now having to defend herself in a lawsuit in which she should not be involved at all.  READ YOUR POLICIES!

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 2012 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 www.rl-law.com 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.

Happy Riding!





Old Time Horse Traders are Alive and Well – Buyer Beware!!

6 05 2010

Once upon a time one of my favorite clients decided he wanted to start a horse business.  Not being an expert himself, not knowing the “tricks of the trade,” so to speak, and just knowing he really enjoyed riding and being around horses, he enlisted the help of a cousin who had grown up with horses and knew something about their care, training and riding.   We’ll call my client John.  John had done very well for himself in the business world and had been fortunate enough to retire at a young age.  He wanted to do some fun things and allow his cousin to work somewhere where he could really enjoy doing what he loved – working with horses.

John bought a beautiful piece of property and built a beautiful barn.  Now, he needed horses.  Some friends introduced him to a local horse trader/broker who was experienced with Western horses, the kind his aunt really enjoyed.  Folks said that Billy could help him set up a good Western Pleasure barn.  John met Billy and enjoyed his company.  Billy was funny, friendly and seemed to know a lot about horses.  Billy told John he could find him a great breeding stallion and John told him to go for it.   John visited Billy’s farm where Billy lived in a broken down mobile home and had a few horses living in paddocks made from temporary metal fencing and in a pre-fabricated metal barn.   In retrospect, Billy’s meager existence should have probably set off a few bells in John’s head, but oftentimes hard core horse folks live very sparsely because they spend all their time and money on their horses.  But for future reference, most really successful, well respected horses traders/brokers probably don’t live like Billy lived and their horses are probably in a little better shape than Billy’s horses were in.  But a little charisma goes a long way and Billy had charisma in spades.

Billy reported back that he had found a champion Western Pleasure stallion that he loved.  John read about the stallion online and saw lots of photographs of the stallion.   He liked what he saw so he told Billy to buy him.  Billy inquired and came back to John with a full report.  The stallion was named Lucky and his purchase price was $100,000.  If John wanted Lucky he would need to act quickly, Billy said, because two other folks were looking at Lucky (no 2010 Derby pun intended ;-)).  John obediently put $100,000 in Billy’s checking account because, after all, Billy was a local guy who knew everyone, so how risky could that be? 

Billy delivered Lucky to John’s beautiful new facility – he was a truly impressive and beautiful animal.  John was happy with his purchase and Lucky settled in nicely.  They began marketing Lucky and he was very popular with the ladies, so to speak, and things were going well.  Lucky produced beautiful foals the first breeding year, which was a great indicator of a successful breeding future for Lucky and the barn.  Billy was also helping John buy brood mares and other horses while helping to train Lucky’s offspring.   Billy found some experienced horsemen to work at the barn for John and they became part of the barn family.  Billy was definitely a trusted member of the farm’s inner circle. 

The one frustrating thing about Billy was that he was, like so many horse folks, a little disorganized when it came to proper documentation of horse transactions.  The paperwork was always spotty because Billy had things to do, horses to move and train and places to go.  It wasn’t until John’s CPA began fussing about how in the world she was supposed to handle the farm’s books and tax returns that folks started noticing that things looked a little fishy with Billy.  Everytime the CPA would call Billy and ask for paperwork, he would have some excuse about why he couldn’t find it, didn’t have it or he would promise to send it later and wouldn’t.  This buck-passing went on and on until I was talking with the CPA one day and she asked me to start pressing Billy for the paperwork. 

Eventually Billy slipped up and some paperwork showed up that didn’t exactly match his oral description of the transaction it described.  Billy had an explanation, of course, but then there was another situation where a neighbor knew the seller of one of the horses which John now owned who mentioned what a steal John had gotten on that horse, having paid only paid $5,000 for it.  John was puzzled when he heard this from the neighbor because he thought Billy said that horse cost $10,000.  John began to notice other inconsistences and uncertainties because once you’re tuned in and looking for these things, they become more evident to you. 

Because Lucky was such an expensive horse, the CPA absolutely put her foot down and said that she had to have some documentation verifying his cost.  After weeks of  promising and not producing anything, Billy finally faxed a faint, smudged up copy of a cancelled check for $100,000 to the CPA.  What Billy didn’t realize was that any sophisticated horse thief would realize that when a bank cancels a check they run it through a machine which types the amount for which the check was negotiated across the bottom and on the back of the check, albeit buried amongst a lot of other reference numbers and letters.  There on the back and front (Billy had faxed both sides), clear as a bell, were the numbers “$30,000” typed on the check.    Then it all hit the proverbial fan.  Now you experienced horse folks will be saying “that’s the oldest trick in the book” and you’re right.  Yet somehow people still seem to get away with it every day in the horse world.

Billy was discharged from the farm and John sued him for the $70,000 that he overpaid for Lucky plus another $30,000 or so that he had been overcharged on some other horses Billy bought for him.  Billy kept re-creating various scenarios to explain all the money overages in an effort to get himself out of the way of the quickly approaching legal train that was about to run him over. 

It’s amazing what a little videotaped deposition in a small room with a bright light on the deponent can do.  I’ve never seen any human being sweat, literally, as much as Billy sweated during his deposition in that case.  He was literally dripping sweat, soaking all the papers on the table in front of him.  The old “hot light” treatment worked and Billy cracked under the pressure, admitted having altered the check he used to pay for Lucky – using good old “white out” to modify the number from $30,000 to $100,000 in order to back up his fabricated story of a $100,000 purchase price.  He even produced the actual check, complete with white out on it.   We all just shook our heads in disbelief, including Billy’s lawyer.

We mediated the case the next day and Billy didn’t have a lot of money, so he agreed to pay John back every penny within a year and John was given a deed of trust (mortgage) on Billy’s farm.  The facilities weren’t much, but thankfully the underlying land was beautiful, so we felt comfortable that it was worth at least what Billy owed John – and Billy did own it free and clear when we put John’s mortgage on the record.   Billy managed to scrounge up enough money over the next year to pay John back in full.  Lord knows where he came up with that money and whether it too was ill gotten gains, but he did pay John back. 

Moral of the story:  Pay attention.  Before even considering using a particular horse trader/broker, ask around the area for references.  Go to the most respected horse folks in your disclipline in the area and in the state and ask if they have ever heard of the person before.  One benefit of the horse world is that it is an incredibly small world and everyone tends to know everyone else.  They may not all like each other, but they will have probably heard of someone who is very successful and you want to know their opinion, good or bad.  You may have to filter your results because, for example, you might know that “Bobby Sue hates everyone who isn’t from York County,” so it’s no wonder she says your broker is a crook, etc. but you should ask around a lot, nonetheless and only go with a broker after you are comfortable that lots of folks have gotten what they’ve paid for with that broker.

**Note:  of course the facts and names in the above story have been altered somewhat to protect my client’s privacy and preserve any privileged information.  But the essence of the story is there and the lesson to be learned remains the same.

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

Hope you enjoy riding in this beautiful Spring weather!





Horse & Buggy Law?

25 06 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dottie Burch

dburch@rl-law.com

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

(919) 881-2206

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

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

Happy riding and be careful out there!





Ponies on the loose!

11 06 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dottie Burch

dburch@rl-law.com

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

(919) 881-2206

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

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

Have a great weekend.