Many people that I encounter throughout the horse world have a misconception regarding the breadth of our limited liability law in Minnesota, as well as the purpose of these laws throughout the country.
In Minnesota, our law is found in MINNESOTA STATUTES 1994 CHAPTER 604A TORT LIABILITY; GOOD SAMARITANS; CHARITABLE AND PUBLIC BENEFIT ACTIVITIES
VOLUNTEER AND CHARITABLE and was adopted in 1994. It states:
604A.12 Livestock activities; immunity from liability
Subdivision 1. Definitions. (a) For purposes of this section, the following terms have the meanings given them.
(b) "Inherent risks of livestock activities" means dangers or conditions that are an integral part of livestock activities, including:
(1) the propensity of livestock to behave in ways that may result in death or injury to persons on or around them, such as kicking, biting, or bucking;
(2) the unpredictability of livestock's reaction to things like sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals;
(3) natural hazards such as surface or subsurface conditions; or
(4) collisions with other livestock or objects.
(c) "Livestock" means cattle, sheep, swine, horses, ponies, donkeys, mules, hinnies, goats, buffalo, llamas, or poultry.
(d) "Livestock activity" means an activity involving the maintenance or use of livestock, regardless of whether the activity is open to the general public, provided the activity is not performed for profit. Livestock activity includes:
(1) livestock production;
(2) loading, unloading, or transporting livestock;
(3) livestock shows, fairs, competitions, performances, races, rodeos, or parades;
(4) livestock training or teaching activities;
(5) boarding, shoeing, or grooming livestock; or
(6) riding or inspecting livestock or livestock equipment.
(e) "Livestock activity sponsor" means a person who sponsors, organizes, or provides the facilities for a livestock activity that is open to the general public.
(f) "Participant" means a person who directly and intentionally engages in a livestock activity. Participant does not include a spectator who is in an authorized area.
Subd. 2. Immunity from liability. Except as provided in subdivision 3, a nonprofit corporation, association, or organization, or a person or other entity donating services, livestock, facilities, or equipment for the use of a nonprofit corporation, association, or organization, is not liable for the death of or an injury to a participant resulting from the inherent risks of livestock activities.
Subd. 3. Exceptions. Subdivision 2 does not apply if any of the following exist:
(1) the person provided livestock for the participant and failed to make reasonable efforts to determine the ability of the participant to safely engage in the livestock activity or to determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular livestock based on the participant's representations of the participant's ability;
(2) the person provided equipment or tack for the livestock and knew or should have known that it was faulty to the extent that it caused the injury or death;
(3) the person owns or leases the land upon which a participant was injured or died because of a human-made dangerous latent condition and failed to use reasonable care to protect the participant;
(4) the person is a livestock activity sponsor and fails to comply with the notice requirement of subdivision 4; or
(5) the act or omission of the person was willful or negligent.
Subd. 4. Posting notice. A livestock activity sponsor shall post plainly visible signs at one or more prominent locations in the premises where the livestock activity takes place that include a warning of the inherent risks of livestock activity and the limitation of liability under this section.
Minn. Stat. 604A.12.
As stated above, the law requires that a sign be posted, and only covers non-profits operating under the specific circumstances intended within the statute. This narrow coverage does not extend to for profit entities, or individuals operating in the normal course of business, competitors who have claims against other competitors, nor spectators who have claims against competitors. This law, to date, has not been reported in any decisions in Minnesota courts. At this time, there are 16 reported decisions involving equine limited liability
While legislation differs from state to state, typical coverage states: "
"Warning: Under _________ law, an equine 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."
For most states, this language must be included in exculpatory agreements and posted in a sign. Even with this kind of legislation, equine sponsors or professionals can always be sued (which is why insurance is strongly recommended), and can still be liable if the injury, death or damage does not result from an "inherent" risk, but rather results when an equine professional or sponsor provides faulty tack or equipment, fails to determine the participant's actual abilities, owns or leases land with a dangerous latent condition, intentionally or willfully causes the injury, or in some states negligently causes the injury.
Generally speaking, the Limited Liability Laws were designed to serve a variety of purposes, including: encouraging continued existence of equine-related activities, facilities and programs; providing the equine industry important defenses in litigation; creating a sense of predictability for the equine industry such that persons and organizations can better foresee circumstances that may lead to liability; encouraging the use of exculpatory agreements such as waivers and releases; educating the public prior to participation in equine activities about the inherent risks and immunities that may bar litigation; allowing for more cases to be summarily dismissed through summary judgment.
These laws are not "zero liability laws." While the laws have led to dismissal of some cases, overall the laws do not, and were not intended to make liability obsolete. Today, 43 states have some form of limited liability statute, and another several are considering legislation.
In Minnesota, in the recent legislative session new legislation was considered, but not passed. Consideration will be given again to new legislation next session. I would encourage all equine enthusiasts to review proposed legislation, and consider providing support to the process. To get involved, call 612-361-0925 to place your name on a mailing list, or contact the Minnesota Horse Council at 612-576-1757.
In particular, businesses in the equine industry should consider supporting legislation while simultaneously practicing risk management. Risk management for individual clients vary, but includes such common practices as developing a comprehensive safety program, utilizing written contracts and exculpatory releases, as has been discussed in previous articles. I encourage you to work with an attorney familiar with equine practices to develop a customized plan that best suits your needs.