Unlike many other states, California does not have an equine activity statute limiting the liability of equine business owners for horse-related accidents that could not have been avoided. Therefore, California stable owners must take extra steps to limit their own liability. (Non-California stable owners should be mindful of the fact that equine activity statutes are NOT meant to limit liability for accidents that could have been prevented, which means that you can still be sued under many circumstances.)
Get a Release
When you operate a boarding stable, all kinds of people will come onto your property. Some of those folks will have learned all they know about horses from Marlboro ads, and others will be lifelong horse people, but sooner or later, despite all safety precautions, someone WILL get hurt. You should make sure that ALL of your boarders sign a liability release, and your barn rules should specify that no one is allowed on the premises unless they have signed a release, whether they are riding or not. Train your employees to ask people they don’t recognize whether they are boarders, and if they are not, whether they have signed a liability release. The simple measure of having a signed release in your files will help protect you from liability in the event that an accident happens. Contrary to popular opinion, releases of liability are often enforced if they are properly worded and presented, even in California! ELS’ fixed price boarding stable packages include a liability release for visitors.
Put Your Boarding Agreement In Writing
Unless you put your entire boarding agreement in writing and have each of your boarders sign it, it will be very difficult to prove what your agreement was if you have a dispute (and sooner or later, you WILL have disputes!). Your boarding contract can also help avoid misunderstandings and late payments by clarifying what the board amount is, when payments are considered late, what boarders’ responsibilities are for property damage and under what circumstances you will evict a boarder. Even if you have a stable with just a few boarders, having a boarding contract in place is an excellent investment for your peace of mind. ELS’ fixed price boarding stable packages include a boarding contract.
Use a Boarding Contract
You wouldn’t rent out an apartment to someone without having them fill out an application, so why should renting out space in your barn be any different? Every barn has problem boarders, but we find that boarding applications can help weed out some potential problems before they come to your barn. For example, your boarding application should ask where the prospective boarder is now keeping her horses and why she is leaving. Ask if you can call that facility for a reference, and then do it – you might find out that the prospective boarder was always late with her board, or that she’s a constant complainer. We also find it useful to ask permission in the application to perform a credit check. If folks are late in paying their rent and utility bills, they’ll probably be late in paying their board bills, too. ELS’ fixed price boarding stable packages include a boarding application.
Get Good Insurance Coverage
As most horse people know, it is impossible to run a boarding facility that is entirely accident-free. Sooner or later, despite your best efforts, something unfortunate WILL happen, and for those occasions, you should have insurance for your business. Read your policy and become familiar with its terms and conditions, or contact ELS to review your policy for you and explain its limitations. Make sure that your policy is intended to cover liability for injuries to people, livestock and property, for both your business and your boarders, and make sure that your deductible is high enough to keep your rates relatively low, but not so high that it would be a hardship for you to pay. See our equine insurance buying guide.
Train Your Employees
As a general rule, business owners are liable for their employees’ negligence, and therefore failure to train your employees can result in big problems for you as a stable owner. For example, each one of your employees should be instructed in proper horse care and should be able to tell if a horse is ill or injured. They should also be required to attend and pass basic first aid classes, with periodic continuing education on these subjects.
Your stable should have a safety program that includes written procedures for what to do when, e.g., someone is thrown from a horse or a horse is found ill or injured. You should train your employees regarding those procedures and check in periodically to make sure that the procedures are being followed. When incidents occur, your procedures should include creating a written record of what happened, including what your employees did to respond. Instead of relying upon your boarders to use common sense (we all know how “common” that is!), have a comprehensive set of rules designed for the safety of your boarders and their horses and post those rules prominently. Each boarder and employee should be required to sign a statement that they have read and understood the rules and that they agree to follow them. Your employees should also be trained how to enforce those rules and you should not hesitate to evict boarders and terminate employees who routinely violate important safety rules. ELS can create a comprehensive safety program designed to reduce accidents and injuries to both people and horses.
Separate Your Business Assets from Your Personal Assets
Far too many stable owners make the mistake of not separating their personal assets from their business assets. It may be a minor hassle to create a separate entity for your business, but when you are operating a relatively high-risk business such as a boarding stable, your potential liability is far too high NOT to take this step. For example, if someone is thrown from a horse on your property and dies from a head injury, their family could sue your stable for millions of dollars for wrongful death. ELS can assist you in incorporating your business and taking other important steps to protect your personal assets from your business liabilities.
Be Kind to Your Neighbors
As more and more suburbanites move to the country in search of wide open spaces and bucolic rural charm, your stable may acquire some new neighbors who are not horse people. Considering that your neighbors moved in fully aware that they were buying a house near a stable, it may seem completely unfair when your new neighbors begin to complain about the normal operating conditions of your barn. You may be tempted to tell them where to go and laugh when they complain about “that SMELL,” but it is in your best interest to try to make reasonable accommodations to avoid disputes with your neighbors. Keep in mind that even if the law is ultimately on your side, defending a lawsuit is costly and time-consuming. Consider whether some minor adjustments might help create neighborly goodwill – perhaps you can move your manure pile, arrange for pickup more often during hot weather, keep your dogs from wandering onto their property or step up your fly control efforts. ELS can help you prevent and manage property and land use disputes.