EHV-1 Outbreak and Potential Liability for Boarding Barns
We were surprised at the questions that poured in following yesterday’s article about potential liability for horse show managers and other equine event hosts associated with the EHV-1 outbreak. Lots of folks weren’t even aware of the EHV-1 outbreak, or they weren’t aware that it was serious, or that it was in their state. While being the bearer of bad news is never pleasant, we’re glad we could help inform horse owners.
Both boarding barn managers and boarders are asking about boarding stables’ potential liability associated with the outbreak. Here’s our advice for barn owners, and you’ll note it is very similar to our advice for equine event hosts:
- First and foremost, educate yourself about EHV-1 and understand exactly what’s going on right now in your state. Dr. Tanis MacDonald, DVM has written a very informative article in layperson’s terms about what EHV-1 is, why this outbreak is different, and how to prevent infection.Don’t rely on what you hear from friends – go to reliable sources, such as www.thehorse.com, your state veterinarian’s website, and the National Cutting Horse Association’s updates (the current outbreak is linked to an NCHA event in Ogden, Utah and the NCHA is being very proactive about gathering and disseminating accurate information). However, keep in mind that the information on these websites may not be up-to-the-minute. Keep checking every day until the risk of infection has passed.
- Second, understand the real risks of EHV-1 infection at your facility. Don’t assume that just because you don’t have any cutting horses in your barn, you’re in the clear. Call your veterinarian and talk it over with them. Make sure your vet understands the population at your barn, including how often boarders take their horses to places outside the barn (and where they take them), how often you have people hauling in for lessons and arena use, and the type and frequency of events hosted at your barn (such as team practices, lessons, etc.). This is an excellent time to ask your vet about best practices for barn management generally. Then, take your vet’s advice.
- Third, understand your potential liability as a barn owner:
- As a barn owner, it’s your legal duty to educate yourself about best practices for equine management, and then implement those practices. These best practices include important (but often overlooked) practices, such as quarantining new horses. If you don’t follow best practices, and a boarder’s horse gets hurt or injured as a result, you will have potential liability. Note that this is true generally, not just with respect to EHV-1 infection. In the case of limiting the risk of EHV-1 infection at your facility, best practices are dependent upon a number of factors, including where your barn is located geographically and what kind of boarding population you have. Therefore, it’s essential that barn managers contact their veterinarians and follow their advice about managing the EHV-1 risk at their facility.
- If your vet recommends that you not allow horses to come and go from your facility, or that you segregate certain horses, that policy will need to apply equally to everyone. If you make exceptions to the policy, and those exceptions result in an outbreak of infection at your facility, you will have potential liability.
- Let’s say that you have a boarder who insists that XYZ event is too important to miss, and they decide to take their horse to XYZ event in violation of your barn policy. Do you have to let them come back? In a word, no. It’s too risky for the remaining boarders. Keep in mind that if you have to refund prepaid board to avoid a dispute, that’s much less of a financial loss than managing a disease outbreak. If you have a written boarding contract that requires boarders to follow barn rules, the boarder violating your policy would be a material breach of your contract, which would allow you to terminate the boarding contract for cause. Note that how much notice you’re required to give the boarder depends upon what your contract says. Many boarding contracts require 30 days’ advance notice regardless of the reason for terminating the contract – in a situation like this, a termination-for-cause clause like the one in Equine Legal Solutions’ boarding contract forms would be very useful. Here’s more information about terminating boarding contracts.
- If there is an outbreak of infection at your facility, you as the barn manager will then have a duty to deal with it, including implementing biosecurity measures to halt the spread of infection. If you don’t implement appropriate measures, or don’t do so quickly enough, you could have potential liability. Keep in mind that your management of the situation will be evaluated from the comfort of hindsight…
- For those folks who own barns, but employ barn managers to manage their facilities for them, you will be liable if your barn manager is negligent in handling the EHV-1 situation and boarders’ horses become ill or die.
Finally, consider that being too cautious hardly ever results in a lawsuit, while being casual about risk often does…
Rachel Kosmal McCart is an equine attorney and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, a law firm dedicated to the horse industry. Rachel regularly represents clients in litigation matters and breed association disciplinary hearings, and also provides clients with customized contracts. Equine Legal Solutions also offers a wide range of horse contract forms, such as horse sale and purchase agreements, boarding contracts and equine liability releases. These equine contracts are available for download from Equine Legal Solutions’ website.
This column is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Because even small variations in the facts and circumstances of individual legal cases can dramatically affect the advice an attorney would provide, Rachel Kosmal McCart, Equine Legal Solutions and Pleasurehorse.com highly recommend that all readers with potential legal cases consult their own attorneys. If you don’t have an attorney, Equine Legal Solutions’ website offers a state-by-state directory of equine attorneys, along with tips for hiring an attorney.
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