I recently returned from the 31st Annual National Conference on Equine Law at the historic Keeneland Racetrack. One of the topics at the conference was liability releases: drafting, executing, and enforcing. One of the takeaways from the presentation (by Julie Fershtman, a wonderful equine lawyer based in Michigan) was that how you present the liability release is as important as the contents of that release.
“Presenting” in this context means how you give someone the release to sign. Some facilities and people provide releases online and request that new clients print and sign the release, and bring it with them their first time at the facility. Others simply hand new clients a form and ask them to sign and date on the line at the bottom. While these may be efficient methods of presentation, they are not always effective.
Why not? In order for a liability release to truly be effective, the signer must know what they are signing. Sounds simple, right? If you give someone a document, you expect them to read it and understand what it says. Unfortunately, that is not always the case – particularly, some would argue, with legal documents.
Especially with generic liability releases pulled off the internet or out of a book, the documents tend to be riddled with legalese and full of run-on sentences. Many of these documents can be difficult even for lawyers to make heads or tails of – let alone people with no legal training.
When someone is given a document full of big words and phrases like “inherent danger” and “release and hold harmless,” they frequently glance over it and sign on the dotted line. This can be especially true when that piece of paper stands between them and a horse! The problem is that later on, if the signer is injured and wants to bring a lawsuit, they might claim that they were rushed and did not have enough time to read and fully understand the document and the effect of their signature.
So how can presentation BE effective? The document should be presented in person to the signer. They should have the full opportunity to read it and ask questions. The person providing the release should be familiar enough with the document to explain anything the signer is confused about. It can sometimes be helpful to go through the document with the signer, especially if they are new to horses.
Takeaways. If you are providing releases – whether you are a boarding barn, trainer, show facility, or other equine business or horse owner – be familiar with your release and be prepared to explain it to new clients. Make sure you hand releases to your new clients and offer them the time and opportunity to fully read the documents and ask any questions they have before they sign the document. The goal is to make sure they fully understand what they are signing.
If you are asked to sign a release, read it! Do not be afraid to ask any questions you have. Make sure you understand precisely what you are signing. Then enjoy your ride!
Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an equine attorney with rb LEGAL, LLC, in Golden Valley, MN. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses, as well as general legal issues that horse people may encounter. You can follow her on Twitter at @KMLee_Esq. Kjirsten and her OTTB, Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by reading and/or commenting on this post. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.