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W., Homeplaces Magazine
|Once per month, this blog will share my insights on the facinating world of the horse business.
Although I will not be taking comments on this blog, your feedback is welcome - email link
Past Cases of the Month are available at this link
The current Case of the Month is available at this link
Case of the Month for January, 2009 saw a licensed veterinarian sued for castrating the wrong horse.
The horse’s owner left the job of bringing out the vet and supervising the procedure to his new trainer.
The horse’s owner collected under the vet’s liability policy but the case highlights what the owner should have done:
-Be present at the elective surgical procedure.
-The veterinarian must make sure the owner signs off on the elective surgical procedure to be performed; (Many, but not all states require such a signed document).
-Make very sure your “new trainer” really knows the difference in all your horses.
While this case sounds “way out there” I can assure you that I’ve handled more just like it.
Case of the Month involved an accident to a valuable Thoroughbred mare recently purchased at the Saratoga, New York yearling sale for $279,000.00.
The fly control company’s unsupervised installation crew at the filly’s new Florida home neglected to have her removed before setting to work in her stall. The filly spooked, got tangled in a ladder and was injured so badly she never could race again.
Because the totally horse-ignorant crew was impatient, the insurance company paid out lots of money.
The lesson: always make sure all stable workers are properly supervised.
The owner of a draft horse team was hit with a big suit when one of the horses was struck by a BB shot by a youngster at a gem show.
The team took off and while wildly making a turn to slow down, the plaintiff was tossed to the ground. She didn’t die but was injured badly.
While no one ever found the BB shooter, the team’s owner’s insurance had to cough up lots of money to patch up the plaintiff.
The lesson is clear; there is often responsibility for injuries inadvertently caused by your horses. Oh well…that’s what insurance is for so make sure you’ve always got it.
Case of the Month involved an exhibitor’s mother who found out the price she paid for her child’s junior hunter was hugely inflated because of numerous commissions tacked on.
Her trainer had to pay out thousands of dollars and, of course, never told mom. The level of trust, required in the trainer/client relationship was torpedoed by the fraud perpetrated by the trainer.
Unfortunately, such illegal and unethical practices are all too common in the horse industry. Even though the victimized client was made whole by victory at trial, the lesson of not being able to trust the person who teaches your child and sells you the horse is problematic. President Reagan said, “Trust but verify;” wise advise in the horse business.
This month’s case began with the plaintiff running into three horses who’d escaped from a farm with a poorly constructed fence. The crash happened on an interstate highway and ended with the plaintiff crashing into another vehicle resulting in death to the second motorist.
The defense tried in vain to wriggle out of the case but their client’s fencing negligence clearly had allowed horses to escape causing the disastrous consequences.
The insurance company had to pay out the policy limits plus a huge additional payment because of a “bad faith” insurance issue. (“Bad faith” often refers to an insurance company who could be required to pay more if it can be shown they acted recklessly with disregard to the claimant’s or the policy owner’s rights. Ask your attorney to explain more “bad faith” triggers).
The case points out two very important points: 1) Make sure your stable’s fencing is first rate and 2) choose your insurance carrier well. The least expensive insurer may not be the best in claims settlements.
The Case of the Month reflected again on the poor quality of horse help at many dude ranches.
In this case a part time worker at the ranch was negligent in repairing the ranch’s cinch on the saddle used by the plaintiff. The saddle’s cinch broke and the resulting fall broke the beginner rider’s femur.
Under Arizona’s Equine Liability Statute, 12–553, the fault for the broken equipment was placed clearly on the dude ranch and the substantial claim was paid by the insurance company.
The lesson is to always check your equipment before mounting the ranch’s horse. If something doesn’t look right then demand it gets put right. Remember, a hospital stay is a poor way to spend your vacation.
Case of the Month looked at the accident to a spectator at a rodeo. She was run over by an exiting drill team during an intermission.
Every horse event must take into account non-horse folks who just want to enjoy a fun afternoon. It’s so important that the event organizers be aware of and protect spectators.
I’ve been called on to evaluate many types of horse events as they relate to spectators. The necessity of taking care of the people who actually pay to see the event is so important.
In this case the insurance company had to pay a huge amount because the rodeo didn’t have even the faintest ideas about safety for the public.
Those of us in the horse world must never take for granted that non-horse people know what to do around horse events; in other WORDS always make sure your horse show or related activity plans “what ifs” related to safety for “civilians.”
Some years ago I was retained by a mediator to review the standards and practices surrounding a horse-related case. A friendly neighbor sustained some injuries after retrieving loose horses after they’d escaped a poorly built enclosure. He then sued the horse owner.
Because the “rescuer” got on one of the horses bareback …and then was hurt, got him nothing as a dollar reward from the horse owner.
The mediator held that it was not anyone’s responsibility to subject their person to injury just because the neighbor couldn’t properly fence in his horses.
In other words, putting yourself in harms way was in no way the fault of the errant neighbor; (The neighbor was cited by the police anyway for allowing loose horses).
The case involved a very expensive show horse that died unexpectedly in a portable stall at a large show facility.
After investigation it was determined that the horse had been electrocuted by a portable lamp that fell in his water bucket. The lamp had been used by a braider the night before and the groom had not checked the bucket before the horse had put his nose in the bucket and was killed instantly.
The lesson learned is to always check the condition of stable facilities and always assume that the horse show has not verified safety for your horse. It cost the insurance company a hefty amount to pay for the loss of a prize working hunter.
The insurance company then sued the horse’s trainer in a subrogation action, (that’s a legal action where the insurance company tries to recoup from other parties what they had to pay out to the horse owner).
Case of the Month pointed out again the necessity of safety issues when going to the almost ubiquitous dude ranch.
The case stressed the importance of wearing protective head gear. Often, vanity gets in the way of protecting your head from injury and long term problems.
In this instance, the parents of the children rightly insisted the kids wear horse-approved helmets. Unfortunately the adults chose not to wear the helmets…thinking that “after all, it was just a one hour ride and the helmets were “homely.”
During the ride, a rabbit frightened the mother’s horse that bucked and dumped mom on her head. The injury put her in a coma for one month and she literally had to re-learn everyday activities.
Of course, the mother sued the stable but won a mere pittance owing to the state of Colorado’s equine liability statute(45 other states have similar laws).
The lesson learned is so obvious: no matter your skill level, always wear the homely helmet; given the choice again, the mother would have gladly exchanged one hour of “homely helmet” use to years of physical and mental therapy.
Case of the Month looked at some Peruvian Paso horse owners next to the construction of a long overdue freeway in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Their prime complaint was the noise made at early times of the day. Allegedly, the horses spooked and injured themselves. The homeowners claimed they had not been warned as to the exact start time the heavy equipment would be working.
Naturally, the contractor’s foreman said his people repeatedly tried to call the horse owners but with no answer. Eventually after much money had been spent, the home owners just gave up since finding and deposing numerous transient employees proved to be very expensive.
The point is to plan litigation carefully before starting the process since a law suit is, by definition, a long and expensive one. Your job is to exactly identify each and every defendant complete with all phone numbers and addresses. This information better assists your legal team in a successful suit for you.
Two riders were warming up their horses to show in classes at the local horse show.
Unfortunately, as they were reversing the schooling arena they crashed into each other causing one of the riders to fall and subsequently break her leg. Since the bone break was quite severe she sued the other rider and the horse show.
Among other things, the suit claimed the horse show failed to have a proper “schooling supervisor,” (even though none was required by any applicable show rules).
During the trial, the insurance company’s attorney informed the claims adjuster that the jury looked as though they were “buying into” the “schooling supervisor” argument. The insurance company decided to settle right then and there feeling that additional costs were not warranted. They ended up paying out $250,000.00 plus medical costs.
Logically, you can see that the injured person’s arguments made little sense but the skillful attorney was able to sway the jury. It’s sad but true that logic and truth often do not play the biggest role in our legal system.
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