By Christopher C. Chapman, Attorney at Law, www.smithwelchlaw.com, and GHC President
Georgia has an Equine Liability statute that offers liability protection relating to equines and equine-related activity, but it is not an absolute shield to liability involving equines.
On the subject of equine liability, most horse owners are aware of the requirement to post a sign with the warning that, “Under Georgia law, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for an injury to or a death of a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risk of equine activities, pursuant to Chapter 12, Title 4 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.” However, most are not aware of the limited protection of the statute. The statute was designed to encourage equine activities and education and would protect most organized activities. In order to understand the statute, one must examine the specific elements of the statute. The elements include:
- Equine activity SPONSOR or equine PROFESSIONAL,
- Injury or death to a PARTICIPANT,
- IN equine activities.
The horse owner may not be protected from injury or death resulting from an equine-related accident under any other circumstances.In fact, a horse owner that is not an “equine professional” is not protected, unless they are a “sponsor” of an equine activity. In addition, the person who suffers the injury must be a participant in the activity.
Below is a partial list of examples where the liability statute may not offer protection. The list is not intended to provide anything more than examples of possible scenarios:
- A horse escapes from a pasture through a defective, or open, fence, gate, trailer, etc. The horse then runs out into traffic and is struck by a vehicle. The injured motorist was not participating in an equine event and the owner would not be protected by the statute.
- A horse escapes from a pasture through a defective, or open, fence, gate, trailer, etc. The horse then runs out of the enclosure and runs into or steps on a person, injuring them. The injured person was not participating in an equine event and the owner would not be protected by the statute.
- A family member of an equine event participant is bitten, kicked, stepped on while observing the event. The injured person was not participating in an equine event and the owner would not be protected by the statute.
- A family member of a student taking riding lessons is injured by equipment, a fall, or other instrument, while a guest on the property or in the barn. The injured person was not participating in an equine event and the owner would not be protected by the statute.
- You own horses and you let someone ride one of your horses. The horse bites, kicks, throws or otherwise injures the person. Unless you are an equine professional, you would not be protected by the statute.
It is imperative to know and understand the limits of the liability protection offered under Georgia law. A horse owner should have liability insurance that covers their horses and injuries resulting from their horses’ actions. In addition, if you have a barn, premises liability insurance is a must, and you need to know and understand exactly what is covered by the policy. Finally, it is very important to keep fences, gates and other structures and equipment in good repair.
Wondering how to protect yourself? The Georgia Horse Council’s $1,000,000 excess liability insurance policy covers many scenarios the equine liability law does not.
“It covers your excess personal liability in cases which you may become legally liable to pay as compensation for accidental bodily injury to any person or accidental damage to property or personal injury to any person arising out of the use and/or ownership of a horse or horse-drawn vehicle.”
For more information, please visit georgiahorsecouncil.com/membership.
If you have any specific questions or concerns, then you should contact an attorney with the knowledge of and experience with equines and equine law. The information contained in this article is for general information only and should not be utilized for any other purpose than to allow you to consider the possible risks and to address the issue before it becomes a legal problem.