Insure Your Equine Assisted Services for Liability

If you provide Equine Assisted Services, also referred to as Equine Assisted Growth & Development, you have an unusual liability exposure that is not easily understood, and well insured by many insurance companies.   If you are paid or compensated in some way for these services, or funding or sponsorships are raised to support it, you most certainly have a commercial venture that is not insured under a Homeowners or Farm Owners policy.

This activity is defined as the insured’s fee service of providing a horse or horses for and assisting a professional physical therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist with therapy for people who may or may not be physically or mentally challenged. Disabled Therapeutic Riding (hippotherapy) has been applied since about the 1970’s.  Riding therapy tends to give mentally or physically disabled persons more will to achieve therapy goals and improvement due to their interaction with the horse  Disabled riders may receive additional benefit to their muscles which may respond to contact with horse’s body warmth and motion.  More recently since about 1997, the horse has been used by professional therapists in sessions to help patients improve emotional, behavioral, and communication problems.  Mostly, success is achieved when troubled people can observe problem-solving abilities in horses, and maybe can interact with and learn to ride or care for a horse. Some therapies involve the patient just watching or observing the horse’s behavior and problem solving reactions to “set-up” circumstances that do not involve touching or riding the horse. In the latter case, the horse may not be chosen for the work because they do not have a high degree of training, and there can be an on-the-ground exposure that may be nearly as high as horse riding exposures if people come close to them.

The insured is sometimes certified and trained to provide horse and horse handling services for a therapy session, but may be a riding instructor or trainer who has a high degree of horse handling experience. An unusual factor of this activity is that sometimes the Insured is also a licensed professional therapist who is providing the horse and horse handling services to other therapists. At other times that same Insured may provide the horse, horse handling and provide therapy to the patient at the same time. Note that:  Professional malpractice insurance policies do not cover the GL exposure of providing the horse and horse handling as a service, so it is this coverage that we are providing.

The attending professional therapist should hold a degree in his or her area of expertise and carry a professional liability insurance (malpractice) policy in their name, a coverage that is not written under this program.

The biggest concern is the potential for bodily injury to patients, assistants and by-standers. The Insured also has a Professional Liability exposure. Therefore, Professional Liability is added to the general liability policy by endorsement for each professional horse handler, and there is a separate premium charge for this important coverage.

As an Equine Assisted Services provider, you worry that you may be sued or otherwise have a claim made against you for bodily injury or property damage by a client or someone else who comes in contact with you or the property that is part of your commercial horse 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 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 this activity.

Commercial General Liability Insurance protects you from financial loss should a patient, student, 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 is Equine Assisted Services? Moderate to Moderately High.

The Equine Assisted Services exposure is modified because usually only one horse is used under highly controlled circumstances, and the fact that the policy is not primary in insuring the professional therapy exposure.   It is further modified when patients observe the horses from a distance, and do not come close enough to have contact with them.

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.

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.

The two most common claim incidents for Equine Assisted Services are:

1. A handler loses control of a horse whereby it injures a patient or other person on the ground.

2. A patient suffers additional or aggravated injury in relation to the condition for which they are seeking therapy, and the horse provider is drawn into the law suit because he or she contributed to the incident.

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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