Unique liability risks involving minors | Favor Swift Collins & Smith
This year I was invited to speak at the American Youth Horse Council Virtual Symposium on the topic “Unique Equine Liability Risks Involving Minors – What They Are and How To Protect Themselves”. This article summarizes my remarks.
Children and horses have a strong bond. Many of us developed our passion for horses when we were young children. Those who provide equestrian activities for children, such as horseback riding instructors and camps, face particular risks because the law treats children differently from adults.
Liability / disclaimers and minors: be careful
Courts in most states have shown a willingness to enforce disclaimers / disclaimers – provided the documents are properly drafted and signed. Yet courts in several states (including, but not limited to, Alabama, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington) have ruled that parents do not cannot legally release the claims of their minor children. By comparison, a few other states (including, but not limited to Alaska, California, Colorado, and Ohio) have allowed parent signed waivers / waivers to bar their injured children’s claims. (Keep in mind that the law is changing on this issue.)
If you are a professional in the equine industry, these variations could mean that your well-drafted disclaimer / disclaimer document might be powerless to stop a claim made by an injured child, depending on applicable law. Worse, as explained below, you could receive a child trial several years in the future.
Prescription: it’s different for minors
Limitation periods are laws that essentially set time limits for filing lawsuits. State laws vary widely with respect to the time limit for bringing legal action against a person or entity resulting from personal injury. One state allows up to six years for an injured person to file a complaint, while a few others allow only one year, with the rest of the states falling in between. Limited exceptions apply. When the injured person is a minor, these statutory deadlines generally do not apply. Most states allow minors to file a complaint within a certain timeframe after they have reached the age of majority (18 in most states). This means that your student who fell and broke their leg at the age of 8 could file a complaint against you. at least 10 years after the accident. By then, you might have forgotten what happened.
Equine Activities Liability Laws
Equine activities liability laws (now present in all states except California and Maryland) sometimes offer powerful defenses against personal injury claims. The laws of Oregon and Pennsylvania, according to their terms, apply only to claims of adults. In comparison, the majority of these laws could potentially apply to injured children’s claims. Whether an equine activities liability law is powerful enough to defeat an injured minor’s claim depends on the facts and the law.
As you consider ways to control liability risks involving children, here are some ideas:
- Use incident reports. Develop a form that provides information about the injured person, what happened, where it happened, who saw them, what they saw, the horse involved (if any), and more Again. Plan to secure these documents for many years. Do not destroy them until you are sure they are no longer needed, preferably after consulting a competent lawyer.
- Liability insurance. Make sure you are properly insured for all your horse related activities. Discuss coverage with a knowledgeable insurance agent.
- Liability exemptions / disclaimers. Where permitted by law, make disclaimers / disclaimers part of your routine documents, but make sure they are properly drafted and signed by at least one parent or legally appointed guardian of the child (the babysitter is almost certainly not considered a Guardian “). As with incident reports, keep your signed waiver / waiver documents safe. When children reach the age of majority, you can ask them to sign your documents.