Horses and ponies bring a great deal of pleasure to those around them but they are unpredictable animals. Anyone who works around, handles, or cares for them should understand the risks. Those of you who run your own equestrian business, no matter how big or small, understand that horses can be dangerous animals and accidents do happen.
The responsibility is greater when you are an instructor because you have a duty to ensure your clients are riding safely. Failure to do so may result in an incident which causes your client to suffer injury or property damage. This can lead them making a claim against you if you are found negligent, leading to high costs. You can be sued for compensation for death, injury, or damage to private property caused by horses.
A waiver and release form is typically used to protect an equestrian center or their instructors from liability resulting from dangerous activities by asking the client to sign a release prior to participation. Liability Waiver forms are provided for both adults and minors. Despite the regular use of liability forms, there is a widespread skepticism about their effectiveness. In fact, many Courts have even declared the liability release to not be worth the paper.
Although every jurisdiction has its own criteria for determining the enforceability of release language, the fact is a well written liability release will provide a strong defense before and after a lawsuit has commenced. Therefore, the terms of a liability release should thoroughly inform the participant of the inherent risks related to equestrian activities. The more specific, the better.
A generic statement such as “horseback riding can be dangerous” does not sufficiently explain the risks. The liability release should include an explanation as to why horseback riding can be dangerous and should specify all parties being released including the business entity, the owners, the employees, and the independent contractors. It is equally important that the proper parties sign the liability release.
A person signing a liability release can only sign away his or her own rights. Thus, it is necessary that family members, guests, and spectators sign liability releases as well. However, minors cannot sign away their legal rights. It is important to have a parent or guardian sign a liability release. This serves merely as a release to the parents’ own right to sue, not their child’s right.
In general, liability releases should be considered to protect yourself and your equine business. It is essential that a knowledgeable lawyer carefully scrutinizes your liability release to ensure compliance with state laws and optimal protection for you. If you are an equestrian center owner, an equestrian instructor or involved in equestrian sport-related matters and require a liability waiver form, it is important to seek advice with an equestrian lawyer.