[Image: equine warning sign]
Many states have passed equine liability laws that protect against the inherent risks of equine activities. In fact, California, Maryland, Nevada and New York are the only states that do not have such laws. All of the laws are fairly similar but contain different characteristics. In Louisiana, the equine activity liability statute is divided into two sections; one related to "farm animal activity" and one specific to "equine activity sponsors." Both statutes have identical terms, except for the animal to which the statute pertains. Under both statutes, “engaging” in the farm animal or equine activity does not include being a spectator, except in cases where the spectator places himself in an unauthorized area and in immediate proximity to the farm animal or equine activity. Farm animal or equine professionals are NOT protected under this statute if they:
- Knowingly provided faulty tack or equipment.
- Failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the activity.
- Own or otherwise are in lawful possession of the land or facilities upon which the participant sustained injuries because of a known, dangerous, latent conditions.
- Commit an act or omission that constitutes willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant or intentionally injures the participant.
Also, the statute also requires the visible displaying of warning signs alerting participants to the limitation of liability by law, and any written contracts must include the statutory language provided.
- EVERY equine professional and EVERY equine activity sponsor must post and maintain signs which clearly display the following notice in order to be covered by this statute.
Under Louisiana law, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for an injury to or the death of a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities, pursuant to R.S. 9:2795.3.
- Signs need to be posted in a clearly visible location where the equine professional or equine activity sponsor is conducting equine activities.
- The lettering needs to be in BLACK letters, with each letter to be a minimum of ONE INCH in height.
- The above notice also needs to be included in EVERY written contract entered in by an equine professional or an equine activity sponsor.
Failure to comply with the requirements concerning posting the warning notices correctly prevents a farm animal activity sponsor or equine sponsor from invoking the privilege of immunity provided by this section.
So what can you do to make sure you are in compliance?
- Develop safe practices. Maintain your equipment and facilities in proper working order. Check all tack regularly for weak spots, loose connections and uneven wear. Check facilities for any hazards, including stray wires, loose fencing or uneven ground. Ensure that all equipment has been returned to its proper location after use.
- Use liability release forms. Many free versions of equine liability release forms can be found on the Internet; however, make sure to include the specific language required by your state. Release forms will not protect you from all lawsuits, and there is no guarantee that a court will uphold such forms. However, when it comes to protecting yourself and your assets, you can never take to many precautions.
- Post Signs. “Ride at your own risk” is NOT adequate within the state of Louisiana. Signs that meet Louisiana’s requirements can be purchased at the majority of local feed stores for approximately $5.
- Carry additional equine insurance. While this may not be feasible for every horse owner, some insurance companies will provide additional coverage to protect you in case of an accident. Many major breed associations offer such policies to their members at a reduced rate. The Louisiana Equine Council also offers such a policy to it members for approximately $20/year. For more information, visit http://www.laequinecouncil.com/.
While horses and horse activities can bring joy and enrichment into our lives, they also have the potential to cause major catastrophes. It is prudent to ensure that you are applying those measures that will protect you in the case of an accident.