The Mane Point: a legal blog for smart horses and their people
By Allison J. Farrell of Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC on 10/05/2020
Sometimes People Act The Fool: Why You (Yes, You) Need Equine Liability Insurance

I get asked all the time: why do I need commercial liability insurance for my equine business? Savvy business owners know that Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the majority of all other nearby states have an equine “shield” law that essentially says horseback riders ride at their own risk. But that does not completely protect your equine investment.

The short answer is this: equine shield laws are generally designed to protect equine businesses from the inherent risk of the foolishness of horses. They are not designed to protect you from the inherent risk of the foolishness of people. As a result, having equine insurance can be critical.

Image of a horse lying down in a corral, representing how equine insurance is necessary to protect your investment, as explained by WV equine attorney Allison J. Farrell of Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC.

Equine Liability Insurance Explained by Example

Consider these two scenarios. Scenario A: if a horse spooks at the sound of a backfiring tractor on the neighbor’s farm and bolts, causing the rider to fall and injure herself, there is a pretty good legal argument that the rider’s injuries arise out of the inherent risk of riding a 1,000-pound animal with a walnut-sized brain that is capable of running 45 miles per hour. That is, horses are flight animals and can be expected to bolt from loud, sudden sounds that are typically heard around a farm.

Scenario B: Image you have a barn employee replacing fence posts, and he neglects to put a post in one of the holes that he dug. One of your boarders and her horse are out for a gallop, and the horse steps into the open hole. The horse snaps his leg, throws his rider, and both are ultimately injured. In this scenario, there is a pretty good legal argument that it was the negligence of your barn employee—not the nature of the horse—that caused the injuries. That is, but for the negligence of your barn employee, the accident would not have happened.

If you don’t have commercial liability insurance protecting your equine business from the inevitable lawsuit that will be filed in Scenario B, all of your assets could be at risk.

Equine Shield Laws and Equine Insurance Work Together

Yes, equine shield laws are a very good thing. But they should not be the only thing protecting equine business owners from financial ruin when accidents happen. Having commercial liability insurance is a belt-and-suspenders approach I generally recommend to my equine clients because people, like horses, sometimes act the fool.

Whether you’re a casual rider or operating an equine business, the equine shield law in your state does not provide complete protection for horse owners and equine businesses. Liability for a horse-related injury or loss can cost everything.

Whether you have equine insurance coverage or not, you need an attorney experienced in equine law to help defend your claim. A WV equine lawyer and avid horsewoman, I’m ready to help you get back on the trail in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the surrounding states. For a consultation, call me at (304) 399-9763 or complete this online contact form. Happy trails!