Part of the job for most farriers is the daily risk of a job-related bruise, strain, or worse. A farrier knows every time he or she crawls under a horse could mean serious injury, or even death, if things go wrong.
Workers in the United States have recourse against their employers for injuries on the job and on the employer's premises, but who pays when your horse injures a farrier or his helper when they are on the job?
The question arose in 2009 when a California farrier, Patrick Barrett, was killed while retrieving a client's horse from a paddock. The horse knocked him down, causing Barrett to bash his head on a rock. Barrett's widow sued the owner for wrongful death, claiming negligence for not disclosing the horse had a volatile disposition and for not clearing the rocks from the paddock. After a lengthy legal battle, the appellate court affirmed the lower court ruling that the horse owner was not at fault.
This ruling provides several takeaways for farriers and horse owners.
Farriers are equine professionals, and when it comes to working with horses' feet, they are considered experts in control of the situation. This means it is in the farrier's discretion as to what is and is not a safe practice. If the farrier believes the working conditions are unsafe — dogs running loose, children playing nearby, a cluttered work area, etc.— he should refuse to work on the horse until the owner makes it safe. He also should refuse to work on a horse he perceives as a danger.
This is not news to most farriers and horsemen. But Julie Fershtman of the Michigan law firm Foster Swift Collins & Smith, one of the nation's leading lawyers in equine law, advises people who deal with horses to read carefully and follow their state's equine activity liability laws. The provisions of these statutes vary from state to state, and circumstances of a particular case that may be grounds for dismissal in one state may be upheld in another.
For example, Ohio's statute limits protection for anyone who “provides an equine to an equine activity participant and fails to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the equine activity participant's ability to safely engage in the equine activity.” The statute includes in its definition of an equine activity, “the placing or replacing of horseshoes on an equine, the removing of horseshoes from an equine, or the trimming of the hooves of an equine.”
In Oregon, to obtain liability protection, a farrier must obtain a signed release from his helper before using him or her on the job. But if the helper is hurt because of the farrier's gross negligence or intentional misconduct, the release does not limit the farrier's liability.
Fershtman said some states require a contract with the farrier that contains specific language in order to gain protection under the statute. Even the signage required by equine activity liability statutes varies from state to state.
The best way for both the farrier and the horse owner to protect themselves is with liability insurance, Fershtman said.
“That would be important, because we know that the equine liability laws can eliminate a number of potential cases, but not every case is barred by the equine liability statute. Some can still proceed,” she said.
Even if the case does not proceed to court or if it is dismissed once it gets there, hiring a defense attorney still costs money.
“That alone can be a very important reason to purchase liability insurance because the insurance company would be responsible for the legal expense,” Fershtman said. “All the insured party pays is any deductible. And if a settlement or judgment is within policy limits, the insurance company would pay that.”
Farriers who discussed the Barrett case said the primary message they wish to impress upon owners is to work with their horses to assure they are safe for the farrier. And use common sense when the farrier is working:don't toss down bales of hay from the loft, start a leaf blower to clean the aisle, or do anything else that may startle the horse. They also urged farriers to be mindful of what is going on around them while they work and to clear the area of any person who does not need to be there.
The American Equestrian Alliance offers these basic farrier-safety guidelines:
- Work area should be a well-lighted, uncluttered space at least 12′ X 18′.
- Farm dogs should be contained away from the work area.
- Spray the horse with fly repellant before the farrier begins work.
- Restrain the horse with a properly fitted halter and secure lead.
- The farrier's assistant must be experienced in the safe handling of horses and the proper use of a lip chain or twitch, if necessary.
- Farrier and farrier's assistant should wear steel-toed shoes.
- Don't schedule a farrier visit during feeding time.
For more information about equine law, Fershtman recommends Michigan State University College of Law's Animal Law Legal Center website at www.animallaw.info.
Also see Fershtman's equine law blog (www.equinelawblog.com).
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