1999 Julie I. Fershtman, Esq. All rights Reserved

Questions for an Equine Law Practitioner
by
Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law
Author of Equine Law & Horse Sense
(248) 851-4111

 


Julie Fershtman's second book, MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense, is going to press shortly and will be released later this year.  As Julie puts finishing touches on the book, she is devoting this article to some of the general legal questions actually received from people across the country and her answers.

Horse-Drawn Carriage Business Risks

Q: Dear Ms. Fershtman: 

My husband and I are planning to provide a carriage service with our Clydesdale and surrey.  We will drive newlywed couples from a church to a reception site, which is approximately 2 to 3 miles away.  We drive our horse in town frequently, and he handles very well no matter what type of traffic we encounter.  Our questions are: What liabilities affect our planned operations?  We currently operate under our homeowner's policy, but do we need extra insurance for this?
R. S.

A: Dear R.S.:
What a wonderful service!  Your concerns regarding liability are well-founded.   When we operate a car, we're never without some type of insurance coverage to protect ourselves and others -- and a car is engineered to follow our slightest command.   So with horses, who have minds of their own and act on instinct, the importance of insurance cannot be understated.  Let me explain why.You can just imagine the many scenarios that could give rise to injuries and, potentially, a lawsuit in the setting of a carriage ride.  Here are some:
*    You and your Clydesdale might be doing fine along the road, but some vehicle could collide with you.  The injured driver might assert that you are responsible because your carriage had insufficient lighting or reflectors (I am aware of a lawsuit actually making this claim), and the carriage and car passengers might seek recourse against you, too, for their injuries.
*     While your Clydesdale travels along the road, as "bomb-proof" as he may be, some prankster or drunk might fling a cigarette at him, causing the terrified horse to run uncontrollably through crowds of pedestrians.   I am aware of an incident a few years ago in Canada where a team of carriage horses, terrorized by a fireworks display, ran into a crowd.
*      Part of the harness might accidentally break, causing you to lose control of the horse.  I am aware of a lawsuit in which this happened during a horse-drawn hay ride.
*     As your horse rests peacefully along the curb, a well-meaning mom might let her toddler approach him -- only to have the child's foot broken when the horse accidentally steps on it.
*     A carriage driver might have a bad day and mis-cue the horse, causing a collision.
Obviously, these are just some of the risks.  Whether or not you are liable is another issue. As a matter of law, we simply cannot assume that the equine activity liability laws (now found in 44 states across the country) cover all of these risks.   They do not.  Driving a car or walking near a horse might not qualify because the equine activity liability laws typically apply when the injured person "engages in an equine activity."  Also, those who operate horse-driven carriages on the road could be subject to certain laws that apply to motor vehicle operation on public roads, as well.  Check your state's law to be sure.
  The risks make proper insurance a worthwhile investment, if not a necessity.   At a minimum, properly insured persons and businesses will find that insurance will pay their legal defense.  At most, the insurance could also pay a judgment or settle a claim up to applicable policy limits. Finally, R.S. states that he has only a homeowner's insurance policy and wonders whether he needs extra insurance to operate a carriage business. 
  In my opinion, if he desires to be insured, or if the law requires that he have insurance for his business, the answer is YES -- he needs more.Never make assumptions about something as important as insurance coverage.  Homeowner's insurance policies typically exclude (that is, they do not cover) "business pursuits."  This means that if the worst case scenario ever came true, and you were sued or threatened with a suit arising out of your carriage business activities, you would very likely be uninsured if you only had a basic homeowner's policy. 
  Those who engage in business activities -- and a carriage service seems to qualify if  compensation is received -- are candidates for some sort of commercial liability insurance.  This is business insurance.  Should the business grow, and if the carriage service adds horses, carriages, and employees, then worker's compensation insurance would be a must.  This author has written articles in the past on worker's compensation insurance and other types of insurance in the horse industry.
Talk to a knowledgeable insurance agent as soon as possible.
  Best wishes for a fun and successful carriage venture!
-- Julie Fershtman, Attorney at Law
P.S.  While we're on the topic of carriage horse businesses, you
should be aware of an organization called "Carriage Operators of North
America." The group promotes the humane welfare of carriage animals,
publishes a newsletter, and offers great networking opportunities in the
carriage horse industry.  For more information, contact Eileen Pasquin, CONA
Treasurer, at (570) 424-6248 or by E-mail at HEIDEL@PTD.NET.

This article does not constitute legal advice.  When questions arise
based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.


About the Author

Julie I. Fershtman is an attorney with a law practice serving the horse industry.  In her 15 years as a lawyer, she has achieved numerous courtroom victories and has drafted hundreds of contracts.  An independent lawyer rating service gives her its highest rating for abilities.  She can be reached at (248) 851-4111.

Looking for good resources on Equine Law?  Ms. Fershtman's books are highly informative, easy to understand, and even easier to order.  MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense, the newest book, sells for $22.95 + $4 shipping and handling.  Equine Law & Horse Sense, the first book, sells for $17.95 + $4 shipping and handling.  Michigan residents add 6% sales tax.  To order, contact Horses & The Law Publishing at (866) 5-EQUINE, a toll-free number, or send check or money order to Horses & The Law Publishing, P.O. Box 250696 Franklin, MI 48025-0696.