Insure Your Horse Rescue Activities for Liability

horse rescue club insurance

Horse Rescue is a highly unique activity which is usually carried out by a benevolent non-profit organization, foundation, or other entity, but sometimes by an individual. [We’ll refer to it here as “Rescues” or “The Rescue”] The Rescue provides or facilitates’ shelter, rehabilitation, and re-homing of abused, abandoned, neglected or surrendered horses that come into The Rescue’s care. Circumstances of acquisition vary, but some horses are voluntarily surrendered when the owners can no longer take care of them; and some are seized through legal proceedings because of improper care and poor condition from owners by agencies such as Animal Control, Animal Authority, County Sheriffs Department, State Bureau of Animal Protection, etc. Horse Rescues do not usually have any legal authority to investigate or intervene in animal abuse cases. For protection from liability, it is best if The Rescue is not involved in assessments of animals that are seized. Those that may be involved with intervention, investigation, and conditions assessment are not insurable under Ark Agency’s liability insurance program and may be difficult to place coverage for with any Insurer.

Some Rescues specialize in Senior and Blind Horses, or certain breeds, and retired race horses, but many do not specialize. Qualified Foster Homes are often sought for temporary stabling and care. Rescues may retire and keep a few horses as permanent residents, but strive to adopt out and re-home animals to loving, informed homes. Some Rescues sell the horses and some adopt them out for a fee that off-sets the costs of rehabilitation. Rescues are usually operated by volunteers and volunteers are actively solicited.

As benevolent entities, fund raising is an important activity. Financial support is sought or raised from memberships, adoption fees, donations, sponsorships and grants, in addition to holding of fund raising events. These events may include seasonal festivals, horse shows and competitions, concerts, walks for a cause, marathons, dining events, and petting zoos. Sales of jackets and shirts, tack and other items are another source of income.

Rescues commonly hold educational workshops by which they train volunteers and the public about horse care and cruelty.

Advertising and promotion is an important activity of Horse Rescues, and horses may be used in some way for those.

Horse Rescues should be well-organized and formally organized, and clear in their purpose, mission and intent. They should have comprehensive, well-thought-out written procedures and manuals. Rescues should consistently use well-drafted contracts and agreements for: Terms of horse ownership transfer to the Rescue; Foster Care Providers; The adoptions, sales and leasing of horses; and Volunteer participants.

Horse Rescues are very important to the horse industry, and though benevolent and well-meaning, there are strong concerns for protection against potential liabilities. As a Horse Rescue operator, you worry that you may be sued or otherwise have a claim made against you for bodily injury or property damage by a customer, adoptee, guest or someone else who comes in contact with your property, horses, and operations. If sued, you will need to hire a lawyer to defend you and you wonder how you would go about doing this. If found negligent or responsible, you would likely have to pay for either a court-ordered or agreed-upon settlement to the injured party. Fortunately, much concern can be relieved when you buy a Commercial General Liability Policy [GL] to insure Horse Rescue activities.

Commercial General Liability Insurance protects you from financial loss should a client, customer, visitor, or a trespasser become injured [Bodily Injury] or their property is damaged [Property Damage] in relation to your operations, and they make a claim or file a law suit against you for damages.

How Risky are Horse Rescue Activities? Moderate to High Risk

The well-managed Horse Rescue generally has moderate exposures. However, this is only if they: Have clearly written mission, purpose and procedures;  do not participate in law enforcement activities with seizure of horses; if they use well-written contracts and agreements; and, if horses seized or voluntarily surrendered quickly become the sole property of the organization until the horses are adopted, sold or leased out to new “owners”. Those that do not have ownership of the horses, or may be involved in conditions evaluation and law enforcement activities are in a High Risk category and may not be insurable because of this.

Horse activities are reasonably safe compared to many other activities people participate in. Yet, horse-human activities do carry inherent risks. Accidents do happen when people at different stages of capability attempt to touch, handle, train, ride, drive and control large animals that are unpredictable even when well trained. And some horse-human accidents are serious. Even with the best of intentions and management practices anyone can have a claim made against them and be sued.

Some Other Liability Insurance Concerns: Bodily Injury & Property Damage to Volunteers: Volunteers are insured under the GL policy for liability, but not for bodily injury or property damage. It is important that volunteers have their own medical insurance, but they also may be insured under a Personal Accident Insurance Policy, which The Rescue may purchase on their volunteers. This will provide some limited coverage for bodily injury. Directors & Officers Liability is another exposure of concern for some organizations, and Directors & Officers Liability Insurance for Non-Profit Associations should be considered.

You Must Plan Ahead – A Five Pronged Strategy

No one wants someone to be injured on or in relation to their property or business operations. No one plans to have an accident that results in a liability claim they are responsible for. Yet, you still must plan against and for an accident, and there is a five-pronged strategy you should follow:

  1. Accident Avoidance is the first strategy. This is best accomplished by implementing a thoughtful operational risk reduction plan that provides a reasonably safe physical environment and procedures for horses and people. All staff members should be trained in those practices. [NAHA Risk Reduction Programs can assist you.]
  2. Emergency Procedure Planning is the second strategy, and it can be important to minimize the severity of an accident and provide proper care at the time.
  3. The third strategy is to use well-worded Warning and Release of Liability Agreements. [NAHA can provide contract models for you to evaluate and use.] Have them completed and signed completely and correctly by all participants. Keep the signed forms on file and safely stored for several years as suggested by an attorney in your state.
  4. The fourth strategy is to carefully review and comply with your state’s Equine Activities Immunities Law, if your state has one. All states have some form of the law except California, New York, Maryland, and Nevada. Some require special wording in warning and release agreements, and some require posting of specific warning signs on your property.
  5. Purchase an Equine Liability Insurance Policy that adequately covers and lists all of your specific activities in the policy. The policy should be placed with an A rated domestic insurance company having a good reputation for service, knowledge of equine risk, and for handling equine liability claims. Be wary of low pricing, as generally a low price means something important is missing in the policy or the Insurer may not understand how to price equine exposure. This important fifth strategy can protect you and your business from financial loss should an accident happen. It helps fulfill the sense of responsibility you have about serving the public, but it provides more than peace of mind. In event of a covered claim, the Insurer provides legal defense and pays for defense costs. It pays for claims costs and settlements made against you up to the limits of your policy. Just as important is the fact that knowledgeable professionals will handle and manage the details of your claim in a way that looks after your claim and litigation interests, so that you can continue functioning with the least amount of “hassle.”

Equine Activities Immunities Laws have been passed in 46 states. While these laws may help you avoid liability, they will not usually thwart a determined injured party from pursuing a claim or law suit. This is because to receive immunity under the law, the activity sponsor must have performed in a specific way according to what the law requires. And often immunity is determined through some type of expensive legal proceeding that can result in a large, often uncontrolled expense to an uninsured stable owner. You still need to be properly insured for liability.

General Liability Coverage & Limits

The General Liability Policy includes specified maximum limits or amounts of liability insurance for:

Medical Expense: Pays for low cost medical expense with no questions asked about your liability or responsibility in the matter.

Legal Defense Costs: Today court costs and hiring of a lawyer can quickly mount to $50,000 or more, an expense you do not want to come out of your pocket if you are sued and have to hire a lawyer.  If sued in relation to this activity,       the policy provides legal defense whether the case has merit or not.

Settlement or Claim Costs: For bodily injury and property damages for which you are responsible and held negligent and liable.

Common Liability Claim Examples

The four most common claim incidents for Horse Rescue Operations:

1.  A rescued horse injures someone while at a Foster Home, either by direct contact or getting loose and into a roadway and being hit by an auto.

2.  A rescued horse injures someone who “tries” the horse to determine if they will adopt it.

3.  If involved in evaluation of the horse and its living conditions, and directly or indirectly in the legal seizure of animals, it is common for the horse owners to attempt legal proceedings, thus drawing the Horse Rescue into a law suit. (This exposure is difficult to insure for liability.)

4.  A third party is injured or property is damaged while participating in a fund raising event of the Horse Rescue.

Where to Begin

Your insurance needs are unique, therefore we believe in person to person service. Call or e-mail an Ark Agency Representative for an estimated premium, policy and company details, and qualification requirements. We work with several insurance companies and rates and coverage conditions vary. We will help you determine which application to use and advise on how to put insurance in force.

*General information is provided on this insurance topic. Acting on our coverage recommendations does not guarantee coverage if you have a loss or claim.


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