Interacting with even the most gentle horse always involves some risk—accidents do happen, after all. Horse owners and professionals can help protect their businesses by requiring all clients, guests, and spectators to sign a liability release agreement, sometimes called a “waiver,” before engaging in horse-related activity.
A well-written waiver can protect professionals in the event of a lawsuit, and it can also cause the signee to think twice before engaging in risky horse-related activities. In contrast, an inadequate waiver will likely fall short in court. Consider the following five tips to more effectively use your waiver.
- Use Clear Language
A reader should be able to pick up your waiver and quickly determine its purpose. Give your waiver a large, bold title that indicates the document could affect the reader’s legal rights, even if they don’t finish reading the rest of the document. Adding a statement like “Note: by signing this waiver, you give up your right to sue,” near the title or signature is also useful, as it makes it difficult for the signer to later argue they did not understand what rights they were giving up.
- Be Specific
Waivers must use unambiguous terms—the more specific, the better. For example, a vague statement like “horseback riding can be dangerous” does not adequately inform participants of the inherent risks related to equine activities. A good starting point for coming up with language of the dangers of horse activities could be your state’s equine law, which likely defines the inherent risks of horse activities. The waiver should clearly state the name of each person or entity exempted from liability, so there is no uncertainty about who is covered.
- Comply with State Law
The legal requirements of a waiver vary from state to state, and failure to comply with state law can make a waiver unenforceable. Look up your own state’s equine liability laws instead of using one borrowed from a friend or found online; generic documents typically contain broad language not in compliance with state law or specific to the equine program. Courts might find such generic forms unenforceable.
- Get a Signature
A signature demonstrates the person signing has read and understood the agreement; ensure the person has adequate time to do so before signing. Additionally, a person can only sign away his or her rights, so it is important to have family members and guests each sign their own liability releases. If the participant is a minor, the minor’s parent or guardian should also sign the waiver.
- Maintain Safe Practices
A waiver is no substitute for other risk-management practices. Create and maintain safe practices to reduce the likelihood of accidents. Further, obtain proper liability coverage for all equine activities. Finally, obtain a well-drafted liability release agreement, and have counsel lined up to answer any questions that come up regarding using a waiver in your equine program. While it may take a little time and money to use a proper waiver, it will undoubtedly be less expensive and time-consuming than a lawsuit.
Kimbrell J. Hines is an active equestrian and attorney with Williams Parker in Sarasota, Florida. Kimbrell may be reached at email@example.com or (941) 366-4800. This article is provided as a guide for educational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an attorney.