The Hazards of Preprinted Liability Releases

hay bale mustang horseAs a horse professional, you try to save money wherever you can. As a former horse trainer and clinician, I understand your concern with the bottom dollar. I also remember all the tales I used to hear from clients about the “cheap” hay they had found. They would always tell me they’d gotten a great deal. When the concern would appear on my face, they would tell me — before I could say a word — that they knew the hay was going to be just great. It never failed that after they got the hay, sometimes right away and sometimes after the passage of time, the person would complain that the hay wasn’t as good as they thought it was or even had serious mold in it. The person invariably had to either buy new hay or supplement the hay with grain, and they never got any kind of refund. I guess the take-away is that you get what you pay for.

The same is true with the legal documents that you use in your horse business. I know it is sorely tempting to get inexpensive legal documents off the Internet for your horse business, but doing so could literally cost you that business in the end. Let’s take one of the most popular documents for any horse business, the liability release. Where did you get your current liability release? Did you make it up on your own? Did you buy a preprinted form online from an online legal website? Did you download one from another facility that had one online? If you did any of these things, your liability release may not be worth the paper it’s printed on. And that means it isn’t providing you any protection from a lawsuit.

ride equine liability release lawAs you probably already know, many laws concerning liability are controlled by state rather than federal statutes. That means that something that is legal in one state may not be legal in another. The problem with downloading a preprinted liability release form from a website, even if it is supposedly written by an attorney, is that the form you download may not be valid in Massachusetts. For example, under Massachusetts law, a very specifically-worded warning must appear in your release. That language isn’t included in a preprinted liability release that anyone from any state can download. And yes, I am telling you that I have looked at the forms commonly available for download online and that language is not there. What this means for your business is that such a form is not legally binding here in Massachusetts if someone sues you for injuries and you have to go to court. You will think you’re protected but you really won’t be.

Another problem with online legal forms you can download is that state laws change constantly. An attorney focuses on the law of her own jurisdiction. She doesn’t have the time to constantly look for changes in the laws of all 49 other states so she can update her online release form to make sure it’s valid outside the state where she practices. Again, you leave yourself open to liability if you rely on a liability release drafted by an attorney who is not licensed to practice law in Massachusetts, whose business is keeping abreast of all the changes and updating forms accordingly.

You can even have problems if the forms themselves are valid, simply because you don’t know how to fill it out properly. I know of a case where a barn that downloaded a liability release from the Internet and got sued wound up in big trouble. The release they’d used did them no good because they had neglected to put their barn’s name in the spaces left blank for that purpose. They simply didn’t know how to fill out the form properly and never had a local attorney check it over. In the end, they lost a lot because of trying to save money in the wrong place.

consultations questions equine law horses law joanne belascoAs an attorney, I am trained to pay attention to details. While this can be frustrating for some life activities – making sure every piece of leather is tucked into its keeper even though I’m just going on a short hack and no one will see me or my horse, for instance – it is essential when doing legal work. I know what language legally has to be there for your liability release to hold up in court. As a Massachusetts attorney, it’s my job to pay attention to ways the law changes that impact you and the liability release you use. And as an equine attorney, I know what things might be important in a liability release for your specific business that might not be important for someone else’s. Think of it this way: a liability release is meant to protect you from being sued successfully. If it can’t do that because it doesn’t meet Massachusetts state law or isn’t filled out properly, then what’s the point of having it? It’s just a worthless piece of paper.

So, while you may cringe at having to pay an attorney to have your documents drafted, it’s well worth doing so. And it’s still not all that expensive. Just putting off getting that bling bridle for one more month can provide you with the right documents to protect you and your business.

Contact me today to learn how I can help you make sure you have a valid Massachusetts liability release.

 

 

What is equine law?

equine law horses law joanne belascoWhen I tell people I am an equine attorney, a lot of people think I represent horses in legal actions.  That’s not quite how it works, although I hope that horses benefit from the work I do with humans.  An explanation of equine law might help explain the wide breadth of this area of law and what I can do for you.

Equine law focuses more on the community it serves rather than a specific area of law.  As an equine attorney, I work with people who have horses in their lives.  My clients can run the gamut from a person who has a horse in the backyard as a companion animal to someone who competes at the national level. I also work with individuals and companies, both for profit and non-profit, who are involved in the horse industry.  These people have different legal needs depending on their role in the horse world.  Some of the people who require equine legal services include horse trainers, riding instructors, boarding barn owners, clinicians, breeders, horse sellers, horse purchasers, equine vets, horse chiropractors, and horse massage therapists.

In order to meet the various needs of the horse community, equine law encompasses several areas of law.  Business law applies to many horse-related activities, especially when dealing with contracts.  The horse industry has historically conducted business “on a handshake,” but that leads to many problems.  Contracts are a way for all parties involved to make sure everyone has the same understanding concerning the transaction.  Some of the contracts necessary to the horse community are boarding contracts, sales contracts, breeding contracts, and liability releases.  Business law also applies if a person wants to create a company or a nonprofit.  Many horse people are great with horses, but not with the business side of being a horse professional.  Hiring an equine attorney allows you to feel confident that you have picked the right business structure and that your business has been set up properly.

horse law business law contracts real estate salesEstate planning is an important legal area to include when thinking about equine law.  In Massachusetts, an individual can have a horse trust, which ensures that a horse or horses are taken care of if the owner is incapacitated or dies.  You may think your will is all you need in those situations, but a will has no effect if you are incapacitated, and it must go through probate before it can take effect when you die.  Money and other assets are not available until the will is probated, which can take several months or even years. A horse trust gives you peace of mind that your horse is taken care of as soon as you are incapacitated or during the time your will is probated.

Other legal practice areas include real estate law, which can come into play when a horse person wishes to buy horse property, whether for personal or professional purposes.  Equine law also can also include legal matters concerning equine insurance.  Finally, litigation, which many people want to avoid, may be an option of last resort if a contract is violated or harm is done to a horse or person.

There are only about 100 attorneys in the country who practice equine law.  To be a good equine attorney, the person should obviously be a good attorney but she should also have a solid working understanding of the horse industry.  The more experience an equine attorney has around horses, the better she will be able understand the many scenarios that can happen and she will be able to craft solutions to avoid problems or to handle them if they arise.

horse law joanne belasco equine attorneyI practice preventive equine law, which means that I work with clients to avoid problems that may lead to litigation.  When you talk to me about your legal concerns, I understand your problems because of my experience as a horse professional and personal horsewoman.  An attorney without knowledge of horses and the horse industry is not able to understand basic terms and broader situations that we, as horse people, do.   You don’t have to spend time explaining basic concepts to me, such as your horse colicking, because I know the term and have gone through the experience myself with my horses.

Contact me today, and we’ll set up a time to see how I can help with your equine legal needs.