Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an equine attorney with rb LEGAL LLC in Golden Valley, Minnesota. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses, as well as general legal issues that horse people may encounter. You can follow her on Twitter at KMLee_Esq. Kjirsten and her OTTB, Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.
Insurance policies are designed to protect what you own. Horse owners generally are interested in either liability insurance or some sort of medical insurance for their horse. Liability insurance can protect you if your horse causes damage or injury to someone else or their property. Medical insurance comes in many forms, and can help cover certain veterinary bills. Mortality insurance can also be available to attempt to compensate a horse owner for the loss of their horse.
We all know that there is a risk to what we do in working with horses. We can get stepped on, fall off, kicked … and we don’t bat an eye (unless the horse does something on purpose — then it’s back off, buddy). But what if your horse injures someone else – could you be at fault? Not always, but here are some examples of when you might be liable:
- The horse has a dangerous habit, such as biting fingers that reach into his stall. The owner fails to warn of the danger, and someone who is unaware of the horse’s bad habit is bitten and injured.
- How to prevent this: post a sign on the horse’s stall and warn everyone who steps into the barn that any horse can mistake fingers for carrots.
- The horse owner rides or handles the horse negligently – for example, a rider is on their cell phone in the warm-up arena and runs over another horse and rider.
- How to prevent this: leave your cell phone with someone else while you ride. No phone call, text, or Tweet is more important than the safety of you, your horse, and other competitors.
If you have not or could not take steps to prevent your horse causing injury to another person, there are inexpensive liability policies specifically for horse owners. If you decide to buy one of these policies, make sure you read it carefully so you understand what is and is not covered. Note: USEF members may already have some personal liability coverage, and have access to personal excess liability and AD&D (accidental death and dismemberment) insurance coverage at a discounted rate.
Major medical and surgical coverage is available to horse owners. These types of policies typically cover certain types of surgery and other expensive types of medical procedures. Major medical typically does not cover routine medical procedures, including expensive vaccines.
Many companies now offer insurance specifically for colic surgery, the foremost example being Smartpak’s ColiCare program. These policies and programs typically provide reimbursement for colic surgery up to a certain amount.
Mortality insurance coverage is intended to cover instances where a horse dies and the owner is not at fault, such as catastrophic weather events. These policies will not cover instances where a horse dies as a result of negligence or willful misconduct, regardless of who was negligent.
If you have either major medical or mortality insurance on your horse — or both — make sure that everyone involved in your horse’s care knows that the horse is insured and how to contact the insurance company. Many insurance companies require pre-approval for certain procedures and all insurance policies contain a notice requirement which states how quickly you must notify the insurance company if the horse is ill or injured. Make sure you comply with these requirements!
If you have questions about your policy, talk to your insurance agent. An attorney can also be helpful if you believe your policy covers something and the insurance company disagrees. As always, if you have particular questions or concerns, contact an attorney in your area.
For more of Kjirsten’s articles on equine law, click here to open a list.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by reading and/or commenting on this post. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.