COVID19 Legal Issues for the Horse Community

Click HERE for the free e-book.

Are you concerned about the legal issues surrounding COVID19 and your horse business or personal horses? I have written an e-book entitled “Horse People, Don’t Panic: COVID19 Legal Issues for the Horse Community.” It’s a free PDF download, and you are encouraged to share it in its entirety and let others know they can download it here.

You will learn about legal issues concerning liability, horse care if you get sick, equine estate planning, and contracts during these difficult times. This is an educational service of Windhorse Legal, PLLC, and does not constitute legal advice. It is my hope that this e-book can give you some information that helps you make informed decisions and helps you discuss these issues with an equine attorney in your state.

Feel free to contact me if you need legal services I can provide. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay compassionate.

Equine Law Explained

When I tell people I am an equine attorney, a lot of people think I represent horses in legal actions. That’s not quite how it works, although I hope that horses benefit from the work I do with humans. An explanation of equine law might help explain the wide breadth of this area of law and what I can do for you.

Equine law focuses more on the community it serves rather than a specific area of law. As an equine attorney, I work with people who have horses in their lives. My clients can run the gamut from a person who has a horse in the backyard as a companion animal to someone who competes at the national and international levels. I work with individuals and companies, both for profit and non-profit, who are involved in the horse industry. These people have different legal needs depending on their role in the horse world. Some of the people who require equine legal services include horse trainers, riding instructors, boarding barn owners, clinicians, breeders, horse sellers, professional riders, horse purchasers, equine vets, horse chiropractors, and horse massage therapists.

In order to meet the various needs of the horse community, equine law encompasses several areas of law. Business law applies to many horse-related activities, especially when dealing with contracts. The horse industry has historically conducted business “on a handshake,” but that leads to many problems. Contracts are a way for all parties involved to make sure everyone has the same understanding concerning the transaction. Some of the contracts necessary to the horse community are boarding contracts, sales contracts, breeding contracts, and liability releases. Business law also applies if a person wants to create a company or a nonprofit. Many horse people are great with horses, but not with the business side of being a horse professional. Hiring an equine attorney allows you to feel confident that you have picked the right business structure and that your business has been set up properly. Because of my experience as a horse professional, I also provide consulting services for equine business owners.

Another very important area for equine business owners is trademark law. If you want to protect your brand, and by that I mean your business identification not your horse brand, then you should register your name, logo, slogan, or something similar that lets people recognize your business. Registering a trademark can be tricky because it’s not an automatic approval process. I provide a search and analysis for horse businesses as well as registration services. If you tried to get your mark, and the United State Patent and Trademark Office denied your registration, I also respond to Office Actions after discussing the issues with you to see if there is a chance we can get you your mark.

A lot of horse people are writing books and creating DVDs. In addition, equine photography is a growing field in the horse industry. These creative horse people need to protect their work with copyright registration. It’s true that you own the copyright as soon as you create a work. However, you can only enforce those rights in court if you have an approved registration of your work with the US Copyright Office.

Estate planning is an important legal area to include when thinking about equine law. In Massachusetts, an individual can have a horse trust, which ensures that a horse or horses are taken care of if the owner is incapacitated or dies. You may think your will is all you need in those situations, but a will has no effect if you are incapacitated, and it must go through probate before it can take effect when you die. Money and other assets are not available until the will is probated, which can take several months or even years. A horse trust gives you peace of mind that your horse is taken care of as soon as you are incapacitated or during the time your will is probated. In addition, Massachusetts has an estate tax unlike most other states. If you own horse property, you may hit the $1 million amount that triggers the tax. I have solutions for you to save you on estate taxes so that more money can go to your beneficiaries.

There are only about 100 attorneys in the country who practice equine law.  To be a good equine attorney, the person should obviously be a good attorney but she should also have a solid working understanding of the horse industry.  The more experience an equine attorney has around horses, the better she will be able understand the many scenarios that can happen and she will be able to craft solutions to avoid problems or to handle them if they arise.

Joanne L. Belasco, Esq.I practice preventive equine law, which means that I work with clients to avoid problems that may lead to litigation.  When you talk to me about your legal concerns, I understand your problems because of my experience as a horse professional and personal horsewoman.  An attorney without knowledge of horses and the horse industry is not able to understand basic terms and broader situations that we, as horse people, do. You don’t have to spend time explaining basic concepts to me, such as your horse colicking, because I know the term and have gone through the experience myself with my horses.

Contact me today, and we’ll set up a time to see how I can help with your equine legal needs.

UK Decision Showcases Liability Dangers

equine law horse attorney liability insuranceAs horse owners, we enjoy sharing our love of horses, and we sometimes even let our friends ride our horse. What happens if a person is injured while riding your horse on your property? Many factors influence whether you will be held liable for those injuries. A recently-decided case in England highlights some of the important points to keep in mind. While British law is different from the law we practice here, the case raises some important points.

Ashleigh Harris was 14 years old when she went on a picnic with her boyfriend and his family at their family farm. She had been riding for about a year on her own pony at a local stable. She had never ridden a horse. Her boyfriend’s mother, Rachel Miller, who was new to riding, had recently bought an ex-racehorse. They visited the horse on the picnic, and Ashleigh wound up riding the horse. She trotted the horse in an open field, and the horse began to canter. Ashleigh lost control and fell over the horse’s head. Ashleigh suffered a spinal cord injury and is now paralyzed from the waist down. She sued for compensation for the lifelong medical care she now requires. Miller rejected a settlement offer for the maximum amount under Miller’s “personal liability” coverage, so the case proceeded to trial.

Last week, a judge at the High Court in London ruled in Harris’ favor and awarded her more than 3.5 million dollars. In his decision, the judge found that Miller had encouraged Harris to ride the “strong and willful Thoroughbred.” The judge stated that Miller had limited knowledge of Harris’ riding ability but knew she had done more riding than Miller. He said that Miller had made a “serious error of judgment” in buying such a horse because Miller was so inexperienced and that she should have known such a horse would be difficult to ride, even for a competent novice rider. The judge ruled that Miller was an unreliable witness with an implausible explanation for what happened that day. The judge went on to find that Miller exposed Harris to a risk of injury by encouraging her to ride the horse and either condoning or instructing her to trot the horse in an open field for the first time. The judge said it was reasonably foreseeable that the horse would be difficult to control and, in certain conditions, might throw a rider who wasn’t used to riding a horse bred to race and trained to gallop. Miller was only insured for a limited amount, and that amount was not enough to cover the judge’s ruling.

An important factor in this case concerned insurance. It appears from the decision that Miller relied on her homeowner’s insurance and did not have specific equine insurance. Your homeowner’s policy may cover some equine-related activities on your property, but questions can arise concerning what kinds of activity and what level of finequine law horse attorney liability insuranceancial coverage is provided. If you intend to have people engage with horses on your property, you should consult an equine insurance agent and discuss your needs.

You may be thinking that you would be covered if this accident happened on your property because your state has an equine liability statute. Not necessarily. Many of the statutes only apply to equine professionals, which means you may not be covered if you have a horse for fun and a friend is injured by your horse. In addition, many of the statutes have exceptions to the law. For example, the Massachusetts equine liability statute includes an exception if the horse professional fails to make “reasonable and prudent” efforts to determine if the participant can safely participate in the equine activity, and also states that the equine professional must determine that the participant has the ability to handle the particular equine. Those are factors the UK judge mentioned when he found that Miller should not have encouraged Harris to ride the unruly horse and to trot in an open field.

You may wonder if liability can be avoided or limited if the person riding your horse signs a liability release. It depends on the facts of the specific situation. Generally speaking, a release won’t relieve you of liability if you are negligent in letting someone with little to no experience ride a horse that is not suited for that person. Even a horse professional may still be held liable in that scenario. Many factors come into play such as whether you knew about the person’s level of experience, whether the person was honest about their level of experience, and how much you knew about the horse and the level of rider it required.

Many people simply take care of potential liability for someone riding their horse by not letting anyone else ride their horse. Your friends will invariably say that they won’t sue you if anything happens. Let your friends know that you aren’t worried about that, but that insurance companies are becoming more active in suing to recover expenses. So if an injury occurs, you may have to deal with a lawsuit from the insurance company concerning your friend’s medical expenses. If your friends insist – and it’s hard to resist sharing our love of our equine partners – you can explore other options, such as finding a local barn where you can ride together.

equine law horse attorney liability insuranceIf you really want to let you friends ride your own horse then get liability insurance that is suited to your specific equine situation. Don’t assume your homeowner’s insurance will protect you. Talk to an equine insurance agent, not just your homeowner’s insurance agent, to get the best protection tailored to your situation. While no insurance can bar a lawsuit from being filed, it can protect you by paying any claim and lawyer’s fees instead of you having to pay out of pocket. This type of insurance is often called Private Horseowner’s Liability Insurance. If you get this kind of insurance, you know you are covered, and you can have fun with your friends and your horses.

This blog post is for educational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Seek an attorney’s advice for your specific situation.