For years, we have written about the importance of liability releases used by horse owners, instructors, trainers, stables, and others in the equine industry. Stables that use boarding contracts without proper release clauses could be missing a valuable opportunity to manage their risks. Two cases help illustrate why.
THE TENNESSEE CASE
In a 2008 Tennessee case, the plaintiff boarded her Tennessee Walking Horse mare with a trainer and signed a boarding contract that included a release of liability pertaining to the boarded horse. Later, her horse was killed in a hot walker accident. She sued the stable and challenged its release as being unenforceable. The trial court dismissed her lawsuit, and the appellate court agreed. It found that public policy in Tennessee did not forbid boarding stables from using liability releases. Finally, dismissing the plaintiff's claims of gross negligence and reckless conduct, the court noted that she may have produced evidence that the hot walker was a “dangerous instrumentality," but she still failed to prove the stable was liable. The case was dismissed.
The case was Thrasher v. Riverbend Stables, LLC.
THE OHIO CASE
In a 2008 Ohio case, a broodmare owner signed the stable's boarding contract that included a clause where he released the stable from liability for death or injury suffered by “any horse.” The mare later delivered a foal that died under the stable's care. He sued the stable for negligence, breach of bailment, and breach of contract. The court dismissed the case, rejecting the argument that the contract applied to the broodmare and not the foal. The court of appeals agreed that the case was properly dismissed on the strength of the release clause.
The case was Slowey v. Midland Acres, Inc.
Keep in mind that states differ in their willingness to enforce waiver/release clauses. Also, releases are not a substitute for liability insurance; people who sign releases can, and sometimes do, file lawsuits.