It is common for equine facilities to require clients to sign liability releases prior to engaging in equine-related activities, such as riding. But considering that forty-eight states have enacted Equine Activity Liability Laws, many wonder if equine liability releases are necessary. I believe the answer is yes.
While each state’s equine liability law is different, the common thread is a desire to limit liability for personal injuries arising from risks inherent to equine activities. In essence, these statutes shift the risk of injury from the provider of an equine activity to the participant. But each statute has limits. A well-drafted equine liability release can fill in statutory gaps and broaden the protection of the liability statutes beyond the laws themselves.
For example, a liability release should be signed by each participant in an equine activity, acknowledging its inherent risk. But who is a participant? What is an equine activity? What is an inherent risk? While an equine liability statute might define these terms, a well-drafted liability release is an opportunity to broaden statutory protection and tailor that protection to the specific needs of an equine business. As an illustration, while an equine liability statute might define a “participant” as anyone riding a horse, it might not include observers, such as a friend or family member watching a rider’s lesson. A well-drafted equine liability release can address this gap and include those individuals who might still be at risk through their proximity to equines, but who are not covered by the statute. Similarly, while the statute might include riding as an equine activity, a release can broaden that definition to include things such as feeding, grooming, handling, and observing. Indeed, a strong advantage of a liability release is that it can be specially tailored to meet the needs of each individual equine facility, breed, and discipline.
A properly drafted liability release can be a powerful defense for equine owners and professionals. But a liability release must be enforceable to be effective. Carefully review your liability release with a knowledgeable attorney to ensure compliance with state laws and optimal protection from liability.