Monday, October 25, 2010

What Is Equine Law and Why You Should Hire an Attorney that Understands It

Welcome to the Equine Legal Matters blog. I have started this blog to keep equine industry professionals, and nonprofessionals, informed of the legal issues they face.  I will be positing articles on a regular basis.  Because this is the first article, I thought that a brief introduction to equine law seemed like a good place to start.
 Equine law is not a specific area of law, but rather a combination of several areas of the law that touch the equine industry in one way or another.  Equine law affects every horse person, professional and nonprofessional.  When people ask me what is equine law, they seem shocked when I say “it’s everything.”  Most people view this area of that law as drafting contracts for sales, boarding, and training. Others view it as relating to personal injury work, i.e. when someone falls of a horse and breaks their arm or leg. However, it is much more than that.
Consider the following scenario. You operate a boarding facility where you board several horses for other people.  You enter into contracts with your boarders where they agree to pay board on a monthly basis by a given date.  This creates a contractual relationship between you and the boarder.  What happens when the boarder does not pay their board? What can the boarding facility do with the horse?  Can the horse be sold to pay the back board? This scenario captures legal issues in business law, lien law, and contract law, just to name a few.
            Here is another scenario.  You are a horse owner and you do not operate a business. You have horses because you love them.  You are in a terrible car accident and you cannot take care of your horses. What happens to your horses? Who is going to take care of them?  This scenario touches on estate planning issues.
            An equine lawyer is one who knows how all these areas of the law affect the equine industry. They have a specialized knowledge that allows them to assess the law and the equine activity to determine the proper solutions.  An equine attorney can:
  • Help with contractual issues such as purchase and sales agreements, leases, breeding, liability releases and waivers, and boarding
  • Help set up a proper business structure for your equine business and assist in employment matters
  • Help with tax issues
  • Assist in real estate and land use issues
  • Represent professionals in association disciplinary matters
  • Help avoid liability issues
  • Assist  individuals who have been injured in equine activities
  • Assist in estate planning to ensure that your horses will be taken care of in the event something happens to you
This list is by no means exhaustive. An equine attorney can help you identify these areas and properly plan for the future of your business and your loved companions.  While this article only touches on a few issues, future articles will address several issues in more detail.  If you have any questions, or if you have a topic that you want to know more about, feel free to contact me at
Happy riding!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Liability Waivers signed by Parents on Behalf of their Children are Not Valid in Michigan

On June 18, 2010, the Michigan Supreme Court in Woodman v Kera LLC d/b/a Bounce City, ruled that recreational providers and businesses providing services to children cannot avoid liability for negligently causing harm to children by having parents sign pre-injury waivers on behalf of their children.  In doing so, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld year of common law indicating that parents cannot waive, release, or compromise claims on behalf of the children.   
What does this mean for equine professionals that provide services to children?  Well, if you have a minor child sign a liability waiver, it is unenforceable.  As Michigan law indicates, minors lack the capacity to contract in Michigan.  Additionally, if you have the parents sign the waiver on behalf of the child, it is also unenforceable because the common law says so.  So, what do you do?
The answer is not clear.  In the case opinion, the majority opinion eluded to using a parental indemnity agreement. Such an agreement could indicate that the parent would be liable to the equine professional for any damages paid out on behalf of the child, if the child received an injury.  This may be a possible solution; however, the Supreme Court never addressed this issue because it was not in front of the Court at the time.
Another possible solution is to make sure that your insurance covers such injuries.  Most, if not all, equine professionals should have at least standard equine commercial liability insurance.  This type of insurance covers accidents and injuries affecting humans and some property damage.
The moral of the story is to be smart when you are working with children. If you have any doubt about what you should do, seek help.   Click to read the Woodman v Kera LLC opinion.