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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 involved an accident at a horse show.
Two riders were warming up for a class when, riding in opposite directions, they collided. One of the riders was injured and sued the other rider and the horse show.
The rider’s responsibility of maintaining the appropriate control over their horse is paramount and no horse show tells riders which way to go in the practice ring; therefore, the horse show was released from the suit.
The other uninjured rider in the accident bore the brunt of the damages which were extensive. Her homeowner’s policy paid up to the limits and fortunately, her membership in a horse show association provided secondary insurance to pay the remainder.
Take note: Many show associations provide secondary liability benefits if the member is found responsible in a court of law…..(yes, a legal action is required).
An American Saddlebred stallion was denied proper veterinary care while at a prestigious show in Missouri. He was in the very expensive care of one of the top show stables from Florida.
The horse was showing symptoms of illness much earlier in the week but was not taken to a vet hospital until late the following Sunday. Since the horse was not actively performing that week, the trainer and staff had not paid much attention to the young stallion until it was too late.
The frantic, out of town owner had called the trainer’s barn manager on Monday and was assured the horse was “just fine.” Unfortunately, the owner had been told by the vet hospital that the horse had died Sunday night………oops!
The resulting law suit went to trial and proved the trainer was negligent in caring for the horse. The insurance company ended up paying $250,000.00 in damages plus legal fees.
The obvious lesson learned is for every horse in a trainer’s care while “on the road” be cared for exquisitely.
The Case of the Month involved a rather large man and his family who went on a two hour trail ride at the foot of the scenic Superstition Mountains.
The dude stable had assigned two wranglers for the large group of twelve riders. When on the ride the standard procedure for the wranglers was to stop the group every fifteen to twenty minutes and check that each rider’s tack was still adjusted properly.
Because it was a warm day a considerable amount of slippery sweat had built up under the saddles. Unfortunately in this case the wranglers didn’t want to dismount since they were busy flirting with some teenagers. The large man’s saddle slipped completely to the side dumping him hard to the ground and breaking his shoulder.
The ensuing trial proved to the jury that the dude ranch had the “duty of care” to protect the beginner rider from foreseeable bad situations, IE: saddles slip in sweat created on a warm day.
Little items can sometimes cause very big problems. A wrangler had taken a trail ride out on a breakfast ride. Everything went fine until the riders arrived at the chuck-wagon site. Unfortunately the wrangler failed to instruct his charges on the importance of tying each horse correctly.
Several had tied their horses way too long to the hitching post. Predictably two horses got tangled in the lead ropes, panicked and ran over two participants, severely injuring a young girl.
At the trial resulting from a lawsuit, (I know, everybody sues these days), it was easy for the plaintiff’s attorney to prove negligence on the wrangler’s part; the insurance company wrote a big check. Lesson learned: Always check the small stuff.
Teaching people to ride is a huge responsibility. Just taking a very expensive series of lessons on horse riding instruction is not enough to give the newly minted instructor the background and thoughtfulness to safely teach the wide range of people who wish to learn to ride.
In this case, the new instructor presented very complex instructions to very green riders. The students, who were terrified, dismounted and were holding their horses when another horse was turned loose and supposedly “schooled” with techniques learned from a wacko charlatan in Colorado.
The loose horse “torpedoed” the plaintiff landing her in the hospital for three months.
At trial, even the jury understood how ridiculous the new “instructor” was and awarded the plaintiff a substantial amount.
The lesson is to get as many references as possible and take your time in finding the right person to teach you or your child.
Children being injured at a riding stable caused their parents to file suit against the man who owned the stable and his parents, (the parents had no ownership interest in the facility whatsoever).
Unfortunately, the parents had a somewhat limited investment in the monies their son used to buy the stable business. Once the plaintiff’s lawyers found out about the loan to the son, they sued the parents, too. The judge ruled, (erroneously, I believe), to allow the son’s parents to be included in the action.
You see, the loan tied the son and his folks together enabling the suit to succeed financially since the son was broke.
Proving again that no good deed goes unpunished, the parents’ insurance had to pay up on another of their commercial lines policies on one of the parents’ businesses. The insurance company caved in to the plaintiff’s outright extortion since their legal defense firms said a trial could run into the high six figures of dollars.
You can readily see why liability insurance is so very important and expensive.
Case of the Month for July, 2010 embroiled a young 18 year old woman injured on the job and a riding stable, which had never claimed her as an employee.
When she was hurt in a tractor accident the stable claimed no responsibility at all. Anyway, she always thought she was an employee since she was paid every week in cash plus she liked the fact that she didn’t have to pay those pesky taxes; (One of the many reasons the IRS absolutely hates cash).
When the stabled refused to pay for the injuries, she sued claiming a workers compensation-related injury. When the case went to court the jury found for the young woman, awarding $250,000.00. The stable’s insurer paid the amount then promptly cancelled the policy.
That was not all since the state workers compensation committee fined the stable thousands of dollars. By the way, the young woman had to pay up lots of money for her delinquent workers compensation insurance and fines.
Lessons learned can be expensive as in this case. Running a business that can cause accidents necessitates carrying insurance that is expensive but creates peace of mind.
Many years ago I was asked to review the circumstances surrounding the rather mysterious death of a Quarter Horse at an Oklahoma show facility. The owners had put in a claim under their mortality insurance for $50,000.00, the face amount of the policy.
I hired a separate independent veterinarian who performed a necropsy on the animal, much to the alarm of the owners, I might add. In fact, I had to retain the services of the insurance company’s attorney and the local sheriffs department to prevent the owner’s own veterinarian from interfering with the procedure.
Upon examining the details of the case, the IVE, (Independent Veterinary Examination), determined that the horse had died of a severe anemic condition; the horse was dehydrated with very little blood in his system.
The insurance company’s veterinarian discovered that the horse had lost several quarts of blood; the owner and their own vet could provide no reasons for the animal’s condition. This information was turned over to the insurance claims adjuster with the report’s findings suggesting possible fraud.
The insurance company then required the claimant to sue for recovery of any part of the $50,000.00 since there was little evidence as to how the blood was removed and by whom; the claim was eventually paid but at a much reduced rate.
The news of the “jugging” of a very good show horse spread widely and the exhibitors were barred from further showing under “for cause” provisions of many horse show contracts.
Unfortunately, the draining of blood in a competitive western pleasure show horse was often used by unscrupulous exhibitors in an effort to quiet the horse in the show ring.
Situations such as the above are extremely rare now since much more aggressive examination techniques are used by all the horse show associations. In addition, most exhibitors would never do anything as horrible to horses that give us so very much and ask for nothing in return.
The modern horse trailer is a stylish, lightweight and usually safe way to transport your show horse.
Unfortunately in this case from nine years ago, during the unloading process one of the side windows fell down unexpectedly spooking a horse to set back pulling the lead rope through the outside tie ring. The horse’s owner didn’t let go in time resulting in a severely injured right hand. Naturally she sued the trailer manufacturer.
At trial the jury agreed the design of the trailer was somewhat deficient because the windows could occasionally fall without warning. While not entirely responsible for the injuries the trailer manufacturer still had to pay a considerable amount.
The lesson learned is to be very mindful of your trailer’s components and systems.
The case of the Month for October, 2010 is so sad because it happens much more often than we can imagine.
The problem…tainted feed or drugs improperly formulated or administered. I’ll speak to the drugs or formulated medications later.
The toxic feed case in question, involved several horses at opposite ends of the country. Because the cases were separated by long distances the people affected didn’t “compare notes” until later and after more than 20 horses had died. When plaintiff’s attorneys discovered other death-producing cases, the feed manufacturer settled right away. Naturally, it would have been so much better if the company had openly informed the public about the bad feed. However, in this day and age of over zealous litigation attorneys the company legal departments often advise the company to say nothing.
In these cases, the company had to pay up on the many cases which almost cost them their entire previously very loyal customer base.
The lesson is to always assume symptoms in your sick horse may be caused by toxic feed and could be duplicated in other areas serviced by the feed company.
Case of the Month is an amazing case involving an otherwise great equine practitioner who absentmindedly failed to hold on to or otherwise restrain the horse she was drawing blood from. With the mare’s stall door open she escaped.
The horse’s owner was not in sight as the “escapee” dashed across the street. She made it halfway across the street when struck and killed by a fully loaded gravel truck.
Naturally, the horse’s owner sued and collected a sizeable sum from the veterinarian’s insurance company.
If only the owner, a barn helper or the vet’s assistant had made sure that the horse was properly restrained. The lesson learned is that accidents usually happen when there are literally seconds of inattention.
All accidents have items of commonality. Most often all it takes is for someone to just do something! Imagine if someone had only seen the open stall door.
The Case of the Month for December, 2010 revolved around a student who fell during a lesson at a stable in Washington.
The horse had stumbled and the off balance rider simply fell to the ground uninjured. A year later, the student and parents sued the stable and instructor claiming a laundry list of supposedly bad instruction techniques and crummy horse problems, etc, all of which contributed to the supposed injuries.
While eventually the stable and instructor were cleared of any negligent action the costs of defending were huge.
The case points out how important it is to treat each seemingly minor accident as a potentially big deal. Always make sure the instructor and any witnesses describe in detail every single thing that happened. The student and parent in attendance during the accident need to also write and sign a statement recording exactly what happened, too.
Always make sure all the witnesses sign their statements. Months later the accident reports, complete with signatures, may save you from the time and expenses of defending against a ridiculous legal action. It’s amazing what can change in the recollections of the student and parents months after the occurrence.
NAES was retained to examine the factors surrounding the case. As you may guess there was nothing wrong with anything the stable or the instructor did in instructing the intermediate rider.
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