The Hazards of Preprinted Liability Releases

As 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.

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.

State Liability Laws

As 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 your state. 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 the required language is not there. I have even found a liability release for download online used by a very popular clinician that is not valid in Massachusetts because it does not contain the required statutory language. What this means for your equine business is that this kind of form is not legally binding here in Massachusetts if someone sues you for injuries and you have to go to court. You may think you are protected but you aren’t.

Changing State Laws

Another problem with online legal forms you can download is that state laws change. 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. Doing so may even run afoul of the law concerning the unauthorized practice of law in a jurisdiction where she is not licensed to practice. You leave yourself open to liability if you rely on a release drafted by an attorney who is not licensed to practice law in your state and whose business is keeping abreast of all the changes and updating forms accordingly.

Completed Incorrectly

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 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.

As 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 ride 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 the ways Massachusetts law may change and how that change impacts 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. I love bling bridles and other fun things we buy for ourselves and our horses. But putting off getting that bling bridle for a month or two 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.

This blog post is for educational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Seek an attorney’s advice for your specific situation.