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The Forgotten Insurance – Equine Liability

By: Pat Mullins, Markel’s Director of Association Development
A horse going full speed can cause damage or injury equal to that caused by a vehicle going 35 MPH

Why do horse owners who would never consider putting their car, van, truck or hitch on the highway without proper automobile liability insurance, elect not to purchase equine liability insurance when a horse going full speed can cause damage or injury equal to that caused by a vehicle going 35 MPH?
It is estimated that less than 1/3 of the horse owners in the United States purchase insurance to protect them against bodily injury and property damage claims caused by their horses or their equine operations.

As a horse owner, trainer, breeder, or riding instructor, have you ever thought about carrying equine liability insurance should a formal claim or legal action for damages be filed against you? 

Could you afford legal fees if:
-your horse standing in your pasture bites the hand of your neighbor’s small child?

-a horse you are boarding gets out of its stall and when another boarder reaches to grab the halter of the loose horse, he is kicked?

-your four horses break through a gate, end up on the road and when the dust has cleared there are four dead horses, eight damaged cars and five people in the hospital?

-your friend or student rides your horse, falls off and suffers an injured back, and then claims that you improperly tacked the horse?

-your horse spooks during warm-ups at the Futurity and kicks and severely injures another horse and throws that horse’s rider off, injuring her back and breaking her leg?

While these are some examples of what could happen, Commercial Equine Liability and Private Horse Owner Liability insurance would help provide a legal defense for you if you were sued.  Now that you are interested in more information, what policy do you need?

Private Horse Owner Liability
Some horse owners are interested in keeping their horses at home rather than boarding at a public barn.  The homeowner is exposed to the possibility of bodily injury or property damage suits arising out of the horses kept at the house.  Loose horses can cause traffic accidents, trample gardens and frighten neighbors.  Visitors to the property can be bitten and trespassers can be stepped on.  The homeowner must be sure to protect his home and family against lawsuits by obtaining the proper General Liability insurance.  If you own horses and are not involved in a commercial equine business, this insurance protects you if someone claims your horse caused their bodily injury or damaged their property, even if your horse is kept at an independently owned stable.

Note, most homeowner policies do not provide general liability coverage for owned horses, especially off premises.  Markel always recommends all horse owners contact their homeowner insurance company for an explanation of what liability is covered when it comes to your horses.  It is always important to know what is not covered. 

Commercial Equine Liability
If you board, breed, race, sell or train horses as a business, Commercial Equine Liability (CEL) protects you against third-party liability lawsuits for bodily injury/property damage, whether there is negligence or not. This policy also includes limited  professional liability for independent riding instructors and horse trainers.

When you are responsible for horses you do not own, Care, Custody and Control (CC&C) coverage is a must!  CC&C will protect you in the event a horse owner of a horse in your care sues, alleging that the horse was injured, got sick or died as a result of your negligence.  Markel can add this coverage by endorsement to the CEL or Farm Package policy.

Misconceptions About Equine Liability Insurance
Many horse owners choose not to purchase equine liability for several reasons.  Some misconceptions include:

1- My state has an equine immunity law which means I cannot be sued if my horse injures someone or someone is injured as a result of my equine operations.
Fact: Equine liability laws do not state that a suit cannot be filed against you. They merely say that for an action to be carried forward to trial, the claimant must first prove that your activities or actions do not fall under the immunity of the equine law in your state.  In most states, if you have used improper tack, provided a dangerous place to ride (including a trail), or placed a rider on a horse that they are not capable of riding, the law will not protect you. You must also follow specific state requirements within the legislation to have protection, such as requesting signed waiver of liability forms from all participants involved in equine activities on your premises and posting various warning signs. 

2-Trainers and riding instructors do not have coverage under a Commercial Equine Liability policy. False: Markel’s Commercial Equine Liability policy will provide trainers and instructors with complete bodily injury and property damage protection should your activities as a trainer/instructor allegedly cause a student’s injury. Coverage is provided on and off premises.  Legal defense coverage is also provided. There is also a limited amount of Professional Liability coverage provided.  This would cover you if someone alleges that you failed to train their horse to be a champion as you led them to believe, or if a student you are training did not develop and learn as fast as you implied.

3 - The cost to purchase equine liability insurance is prohibitive.
In actuality, the premium to insure four horses under Markel’s Private Horse Owner Liability policy is less than 1 dollar a day.  Coverage is available in limits of $300,000, $500,000, or $1,000,000 per occurrence and follows the horse anywhere in the U.S. and Canada when the animal is being used for non-commercial activities. The Commercial Equine Liability policy is rated based on the number of owned and non-owned horses in your care and the various activities/services you are involved in and/or provide.  Again, coverage is available in limits of $300,000, $500,000, or $1,000,000 per occurrence.

A Final Thought
Perhaps the most important benefit in carrying either a Private Equine Liability policy or a Commercial Equine Liability policy is the fact that a legal defense is provided for you and legal costs are paid by the insurance company if a formal lawsuit is filed against you. Defense costs are paid outside of the policy limits. When owning a horse or operating an equine facility, you are exposed to a liability loss where there is no pre-determined fixed dollar amount that you could lose .  We urge you to consider this and to include equine liability insurance as you prepare your annual equine budget.  Don’t neglect the “forgotten” equine insurance coverage… your personal or commercial equine liability insurance policy.
(Policy terms/conditions are briefly outlined in the article above.  For full details, refer to the policy itself.) 

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