Three Common Equine Contract Errors

1. Not using a contract

When a client comes to me with a problem related to the sale of a horse, a trial period, a lease, or similar and I ask to see the contract...and there isn't one.  Prevailing in a "he says" "she says" situation can be very difficult because everyone tends to remember past events with the filter of their own motivations.  However brief, make it a priority to have something in writing, signed by the parties, that represents your agreement (and covers your potential liabilities).

2. Not getting a signature

When someone provides a contract to the other party, and allows the horse to leave the premises before the contract is signed and returned.  While the person who took the horse is possibly "on notice" of the terms of the arrangement, the signature represents that the person agrees to be bound by the terms.  If someone leasing a horse receives a contract dictating he or she must pay for the horse's rehab for 30 days in the event of lameness, but then doesn't sign the contract, the owner of the horse most likely cannot compel the Lessee to act in accordance with the terms of the contract.  In the horse world things often happen quickly or with agents (such as a trainer picking up a horse), but stand firm and get the signature first.

3. Contract that is Incomplete and Missing Terms

When a client comes to me with an equine issue that is not accounted for in the contract.  For example, the parties may have used a Bill of Sale but not a Purchase and Sale Agreement.  If the owner made warranties or promises when he sold you a horse, but those are not included in the documentation, then you will likely have a difficult time proving your case.  The best situation is to review your contracts with an equine attorney to make sure they are appropriately broad, as well as appropriately specific, for your situation.  Or, if you are provided with a contract by the other party and you wish to add terms, include them on a contract and have both parties date and sign the addition.  In any contract situation consider what is material, particularly the terms related to money, dates, and what to do if something goes wrong.  It is those material provisions that, at a minimum, should be in your contract.

Lesson to be learned: Use a contract that is complete and correct for your specific, particular situation; provide it to the other party and receive a signature before you take any further action related to the horse deal.

Equine Architecture: is your barn safe?

Have you ever had an accident happen at the barn? Horses kick each other, a barn fire, wash rack injury?  
Being around horses is an inherently dangerous risk, and boarding barns should not be liable for injuries that occur as a natural byproduct of our equestrian sport.
However, boarding barns cannot waive gross negligence, and there may be times that such conduct or conditions around the barn result in avoidable injury.

Today we have a special feature from equine architect Joseph Martinolich.  Joe loves working with horsemen because horse people are so passionate about their sport!  However, Joe has also seen a number of errors made in equine architecture, errors that have led to injury.  He has been an expert witness in court cases revolving around these types of injuries.
I asked him a few questions about equine building and design to help serve you, my readers, as both boarders and barn owners (whether for private use or as a business).

1. How does your company intersect with equine law?

I have been a licensed architect for 30 years and over the last 15 years I have been specializing in equine design (stables, arenas, farm planning etc). This unique knowledge and experience has allowed me to assist  the legal community by serving as an expert witness on cases involving  injuries or damage involving horses, horsemen,  and/or the facilities in which they are they are used or stabled. My involvement has entailed reviewing and evaluating existing equine facilities for proper clearances, construction and overall design and how those physical conditions may or may not have  contributed to the injury or damages being claimed. 

2. What are the top two most common architectural issues you see arise in equine law?

While each case has been unique, I have seen one issue that appears to come up time and again. That being the unrealistic perception that some people have that the building or structure  should somehow be designed and constructed to safeguard them against every possible injury or damage, even when improperly used or maintained. One way to further describe this is to think of the building as a tool which needs to be operated and maintained properly in order to do the job for which it was constructed. Consider something as simple as a latch on a stall door - if not properly used or operated can result in a horse from getting loose and getting or causing an injury. The building (or latch) can only work and create a safe environment if its used properly by the people within it.

3. If someone is building or renovating a horse facility, what should they keep in mind to help them avoid liability?

Many issues will directly or indirectly affect the safe and functional use of  a farm and stable, just a few of these include:
  • Proper Planning: from the location of the building on the property, to the clearances and space requirements for for people, vehicles and horses, to the selection of proper materials. Sometimes trying to make use of less-than-ideal conditions or materials may save some time or money initially, but can come back to haunt the owner in the long run.
  • Proper maintenance: deteriorated wiring, splintering wood, exposed nails and screws, clogged drains, faulty door hardware etc are accidents waiting to happen. Regular maintenance  needs to be part of every stable owners operating plan. The facilities can  not simply be built and forgotten about.  
  • Proper electrical design & construction: Stables and arenas are unique environments due to the exposure to dust, birds, vermin, chewing horses, regular exposure to water (at wash stalls, etc). The lighting and power distribution in these facilities needs to be carefully planned to account for these conditions. Exposed and unprotected wiring is subject to being chewed  by vermin and horses, so protecting these components in conduit (plastic or metal tubing in which the wires are routed) adds a level of protection. Using GFCI (ground fault circuit interruption) protected outlets to reduce the risk of shock. The proper selection of UL listed damp/wet locations light fixtures, and to avoid the attracting insects and nesting birds, as well as other measures are all ways to minimize the chances of injury and fire. 

If you are a boarder I would encourage you to always examine the premises prior to your horse's arrival to ensure it is suitable for you.  And once you are a boarder, remain observant of how you can better ensure the safety of yourself, your horse, and others at the barn.  
As a barn owner, maintenance of safe conditions is paramount.  It should be part of your daily routine to be aware of broken or rotting boards, sharp objects, or dangerous conditions.  Your boarding agreement should also require prospective boarders sign that they have had the opportunity to examine the premises and find them suitable, and of course a provision waiving negligence.

Want some more barn eye-candy? Be sure to check out Joe's full gallery of projects.  He is based in Lexington, KY but available in any locale, or for consultation by phone or e-mail.

Have a question about whether your Boarding Agreement protects you as well as it should?  Contact me and I can help you find an attorney in your state.  As a word to the wise, I recently won a case because the Barn Owner did not use a Boarding Agreement at all and therefore could not meet her burden of proof to prevail in the dispute.  I'd recommend at least a brief agreement rather than no agreement at all- even for short-term boarders!