Welcome to the second in my series of overviews of state equine liability statutes. I started with New Jersey because that is where I am from. I wasn’t sure how to go about doing all 50 states, so I decided to go alphabetically. If you see a state that has been skipped, that means that state does not have an equine liability statute, and I will put those states in a separate post.
The first state is Alabama. Alabama’s equine liability statute is similar to New Jersey’s, and probably most of the equine liability statutes I will survey, in that it recognizes the inherent danger of horseback riding and engaging in horse-related activities.
What are “equine activities”?
According to the statute, equine activities are:
a. Equine shows, fairs, competitions, performances, or parades that involve any or all breeds of equines and any of the equine disciplines, including, but not limited to: dressage, hunter and jumper horse shows, grand prix jumping, three-day events, combined training, rodeos, driving, pulling, cutting, polo, steeplechasing, English and western performance riding, endurance trail riding and western games, and hunting.
b. Equine training or teaching activities, or both.
c. Boarding equines.
d. Riding, inspecting, or evaluating an equine belonging to another, whether or not the owner has received some monetary consideration or other thing of value for the use of the equine or is permitting a prospective purchaser of the equine to ride, inspect, or evaluate the equine.
e. Rides, trips, hunts, or other equine activities of any type, however informal or impromptu, that are sponsored by an equine-activity sponsor.
f. Placing or replacing horseshoes on an equine.
g. Examining or administering medical treatment to an equine by a veterinarian.
Ala. Code 1975 § 6-5-337 (b)(3).
Who is an “equine professional”?
A person engaged for compensation in:
a. Instructing a participant or renting to a participant an equine for the purpose of riding, driving, or being a passenger upon the equine.
b. Renting equipment or tack to a participant.
c. Examining or administering medical treatment to an equine as a veterinarian.
Ala. Code 1975 § 6-5-337 (b)(5).
The statute also addresses something called an “equine activity sponsor.”
What is that?
An individual, group, club, partnership, or corporation, whether or not the sponsor is operating for profit or nonprofit, which sponsors, organizes, or provides the facilities for an equine activity, including, but not limited to: pony clubs, 4-H clubs, hunt clubs, riding clubs, school and college sponsored classes, programs, and activities, therapeutic riding programs, and operators, instructors, and promoters of equine facilities, including, but not limited to, stables, clubhouses, ponyride strings, fairs, and arenas at which the activity is held.
Ala. Code 1975 § 6-5-337 (b)(4).
What is “equine activity engagement”?
There is also a definition of “engages in equine activity,” which is:
Riding, training, providing, or assisting in providing medical treatment of, driving, or being a passenger upon an equine, whether mounted or unmounted, or any person assisting a participant or show management in equine activities. The term does not include being a spectator at an equine activity, except in cases where the spectator places himself or herself in an unauthorized area and in immediate proximity to the equine activity.
Ala. Code 1975 § 6-5-337 (b)(1).
What are “inherent risks”?
The inherent risks of equine activities include:
Those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of equine activities, including, but not limited to:
a. The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around them.
b. The unpredictability of the reaction of an equine to sounds, sudden movement, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals.
c. Certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions.
d. Collisions with other equines or objects.
e. The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the animal or not acting within his or her ability.
Ala. Code 1975 § 6-5-337 (b)(6).
These are all things we, as avid (or not so avid) equestrians, know – or should know.
Is an equine professional ever liable?
Alabama also has similar limitations on liability. For example, if an equine professional utilizies faulty equipment or tack, and knew or should have known that the tack or equipment was faulty. This means if the equine professional did not know or should have known that the tack or equipment was faulty, they are not liable.
Example: A trainer knows that a saddle has worn stirrup leathers that are in a condition which could break at any moment. The trainer uses the saddle anyway, knowing this. During a lesson, one of the stirrup leathers breaks, causing an accident for the rider resulting in injuries. That equine professional is liable.
When else might an equine professional be liable?
- When the professional fails to ascertain the experience level of the rider and fails to manage the experience level, i.e. putting the rider on a horse that is too much for him or her;
- Owns, leases, or rents property where there is a dangerous condition of which the equine professional knew or should have known and for which the equine professional did not post warning signs;
- Committing an act or willfully omitting something that “consitutes a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the” rider, i.e. basically, doing something or failing to do something to protect the rider’s safety that is completely egregious, like throwing a rock at the horse while it is going by causing is to bolt, buck, rear, or misbehave and thus injuring the rider.
- Intentionally injuring the rider. I think this goes without saying, and this is also very disturbing.
Ala. Code 1975 § 6-5-337 (c)(1 – 2).
Like New Jersey, Alabama requires that warning signs be posted on or near stables, corrals, or areas where the equine professional will be conducting equine activities. The particular section of the law even lays out how the sign shall be designed. Finally, there is particular language that must be used.
Ala. Code 1975 § 6-5-337 (d)(1)
Under Alabama law, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for an injury to or the death of a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities, pursuant to the Equine Activities Liability Protection Act.
Ala. Code 1975 § 6-5-337 (d)
A lot of this is self-explanatory. You, as an equine professional or sponsor of equine activities, are not liable for the dangers inherent in horseback riding unless you engage in certain actions as laid out in the law. Additionally, if you fail to post the warning signs as set forth in the law, you forego all protections of the equine liability statute.
Note: This post is not meant to serve as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. If you have been in a riding accident in New Jersey and believe that stable owner or operator is at fault, please seek the advice of an experienced personal injury or equine law attorney.