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Equine Legal Guide

Liability Insurance for the Average Horse Owner
1999-2001 Julie I. Fershtman, Esq. All Rights Reserved


Q:  Dear Ms. Fershtman:

Q: I do not have a horse-related business.  I just own and stable and my own horses.  Do I need special insurance that will protect me if I let a friend ride my horse and they get hurt? 

- Name not provided (Michigan)

A:  Your question asks if you, a non-professional horse owner, need "special" liability insurance and what is available.  For horse owners in just about every state, liability insurance is a choice.  However, I strongly believe that it is an important choice that all horse owners and businesses should take very seriously.  This article explains liability insurance for non-professionals with horses.

What Is Liability Insurance?
Liability insurance is designed to protect you if someone tries to hold you liable (legally responsible) if you or your horse injures another person or damages another's property.  Liability insurance offers you, the one who has bought the coverage, protection against claims that others might make against you.  If someone tries to hold you legally responsible for an injury or property damage, and if your insurance policy covers you against the claim at issue, you can expect the insurer to do any or all of the following:

*  investigate the claim 
*  pay the injured person, and/or his or her family, depending on the claim, a sum of money within 
    policy limits as a settlement (if deemed appropriate by the company) 
*  pay any judgment that may be issued against you, within policy limits 
*  pay your legal defense costs.

 This could save you an enormous sum of money. If you are not insured, you are fully responsible for paying these expenses on your own.

How Does Liability Insurance Differ from Other Insurance?
Liability insurance differs from other types of equine-related insurance, such as equine mortality or major medical insurance.  Liability insurance protects you from claims or lawsuits that someone else brings against you. With mortality and major medical insurance, you will seek the payment directly from your own insurer if something happens to your horse and you are the one the policy directly benefits.

Types of Coverages for the Average Horse Owner
There are three types of liability insurance coverages available to the average (non-professional) horse owner or keeper.  As explained in this article, not all of them will protect you for liabilities related to your horses: 

*  Homeowner's insurance or renter's liability insurance 
*  Farm owner's insurance 
*  Personal horse owner's liability insurance (sometimes called "Private Horse Owner's Liability 
    Insurance" or "Individual Horse Owner's Liability Insurance").

What Settings Make Liability Insurance Desirable?
Equine professionals are not the only ones at risk of being sued.  Individuals who own horses and make no money from them have been sued, as well.  Below are certain events that really happened and led to claims or lawsuits brought against average horse owners: 

A horse escaped from its stall or pasture late one night, wandered onto a nearby road, killed someone driving in a car, and damaged the car.  If your homeowner's liability insurance, farm owner's liability insurance, or renter's insurance policy expressly protects you against liabilities that your own horses may generate when they are stabled on your property, you are probably covered for this tragic setting.  Basic homeowner's and renter's insurance policies may not automatically protect you from these risks.  To be sure that you are properly covered, make sure to ask your insurance agent or read your policy very carefully. 

John lets a friend to ride his horse, but the horse suddenly bolts. John's friend falls off and suffers severe injuries.  If your homeowner's, renters, or farm owner's liability insurance policy covers horse-inflicted injuries or damages, you are covered for this tragic scenario.  A policy of personal horse owner's liability insurance almost definitely covers this setting. 

During a trail ride or horse show, a horse kicked out at another horse and injured the other rider.  Because personal horse owner's liability insurance policies are designed to "follow the horse" and protect you if your horse is blamed for causing injury or damage on or off of your premises (with some limitations), this type of policy would likely protect you.  The opposite could be true if your farm owner's, renter's, or homeowner's insurance does not cover the actions of your horse when off of the premises.  Your insurance agent can explain whether you are properly covered.

Do Equine Liability Laws Make Insurance Unnecessary?
None of the 44 existing equine activity liability laws (as of June 2000), ends liability altogether.  Regardless of whether you are a professional or non-professional with horses, someone can try to hold you legally responsible for an injury or damages.  Because of this, insurance remains very important.

Can I Shop Around for Insurance?
Shop away.  While you compare prices on insurance policies, however, keep in mind that the cheaper cost might reflect poorer coverage.  Make sure that the policies you are comparing have identical coverage and that the insurance companies are financially sound and reputable.

-- Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law 

This article does not constitute legal advice.  When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

About the Author

Julie I. Fershtman is an attorney with a law practice serving the horse industry nationwide.  In her 16 years as a lawyer, she has achieved numerous courtroom victories and has drafted hundreds of contracts.  An independent lawyer rating service gives her its highest rating for abilities.  She can be reached at (248) 851-4111, ext. 160.

Looking for good, understandable information on Equine Law?  Ms. Fershtman's books are highly informative and easy to order.  MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense, the newest book, sells for $22.95 + $5 shipping and handling.  Equine Law & Horse Sense, the first book, sells for $17.95 + $5 shipping and handling.  Michigan residents add 6% sales tax.  To order, contact Horses & The Law Publishing at (866) 5-EQUINE or send check or money order to Horses & The Law Publishing, P.O. Box 250696 Franklin, MI 48025-0696.

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