Are Fellow Boarders Liable?
Q. I realize that you have addressed the liability issue in regards to hosting an event. But my question is who is liable within the boarding facility? I currently have my horses boarded and have made the decision to be part of the solution and not the problem. I have opted for the next week or week and half to stay put. I feel that at this time, we are missing quite a bit of relevant information. I think if we just give it another week we will have more information at our disposal and then probably will be able to resume our regular schedule of showing, etc. I have made my opinion clearly known by everyone at the barn and to the owner. Unfortunately, we have one individual who feels that Memorial weekend is around the corner and she is not going miss the multi-state trail ride/party that will be taking place. The crazy thing is that I don’t think she has even ridden her horse three times since last fall. Yes, I said last “fall.” But for whatever reason, she has deemed that it is life or death for her to go to this trail ride. Now, this barn does not have the capabilities to quarantine any horses and this horse shares a fence line with my horse – paddock. She plans on going and then returning her horse right next to mine. If by chance her horse contracts something (let’s hope not,) who is liable?
Thank you, Tiffany
A. First, I’d discuss the matter with your veterinarian to assess the real risk of this horse bringing home the EHV-1 virus from this event. If your vet feels that the risk is relatively high, I’d recommend taking the following steps.
If you can’t talk any sense into the horse owner, I’d suggest talking to the barn manager (and, if your vet is willing, having your vet talk to the barn manager). You might show the barn manager this article that I wrote about potential liability for boarding stables: http://equinelegalsolutions.blogspot.com/2011/05/ehv-1-outbreak-and-potential-liability_20.html You might also discuss the matter with other boarders – if enough boarders feel strongly about the situation, they may be able to prevail upon the horse owner and the barn manager to do what is most sensible in the situation. If the barn manager thinks they might lose a number of boarders over the issue, they’re more likely to side with the group rather than the individual boarder.
Let’s suppose that your vet believes the risk of infection is relatively high, but the horse owner decides to attend the trail ride anyway, and the barn manager lets them come back to your facility. I’d recommend conferring with your veterinarian and the barn manager about whether there is a location at your current boarding facility where your horse can be segregated from the horse that went to the trail ride (and the other horses it will come into contact with after it arrives back at home). Also confer with your veterinarian about any biosecurity measures that will help prevent the spread of infection to your horse. Do what you can to prevent your horse from being affected, as you have a legal duty to mitigate your damages (i.e., if there are things you can do to prevent your horse from being infected, and you don’t do them, that will adversely affect any legal case you might have).
After conferring with your vet, you may decide that there’s no sure way to prevent your horse from getting sick if the trail ride horse comes home bearing the virus. In that case, you may want to consider moving your horse to another boarding facility, even if it means forfeiting a month’s worth of prepaid board. Consider that a partial month’s board and the hassle associated with moving barns will likely be minor compared to the expense and hassle you’ll have if your horse is infected with EHV-1.
If you do everything you can to prevent infection and your horse still gets sick as a result of this one boarder attending the trail ride and bringing home EHV-1, the barn owner and the individual horse owner may indeed have potential liability.
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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