Q&A: Kids and Dogs in the Barn—Who is Liable?

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Q: I own and operate a boarding stable at which I’ve always allowed boarders to happily bring their children along, however, I’ve never allowed them to bring their dogs. But I’m now getting an increasing number of requests to change that rule!  I just worry about scenarios such as a dog spooking a horse and the rider getting hurt. Should I keep my no dog rule as is, or, if I change the rule how do I protect myself against those situations?  

A: Great questionIn my opinion, there is no reason that you can’t allow dogs if it is something that your boarders have requested, and if you take the necessary precautions.

First, put up signs stating your rules regarding dogs on the property. Common sense comes into play a lot here. Signage that states that dogs must be on a leash puts people on notice that dogs cannot run loose. That’s the first step in protecting yourself from liability from an injury.

The second step is actually enforcing those rules. If you hang up signs stating that dogs must be on a leash but then allow dogs to roam the property at will, you are opening the door to issues.

Let’s use your example of a dog spooking a horse and the rider falling off and sustaining an injury. If there are stated rules that a dog must be on a leash, and a customer’s dog is running loose and causes injury to a rider on the property, then the dog’s owner may be liable for the injuries. In this situation, the dog owner’s failure to leash the dog was the foreseeable cause of the accident. The leash rule may also protect you from liability. If you do not enforce the leash rule however, then you may be liable along with the dog owner, in part for failing to implement your own rule and protect horses and riders on the property. Plaintiffs will go after the party who can pay, whether it is the dog owner, you as the facility owner, or both.

Hopefully you also have insurance on the property to cover alleged negligence. The foreseeability of someone getting hurt or something getting damaged and that an opportunity to prevent it was not taken is one of the first things a lawyer will look at in a case. Most reasonable people would say that it’s dangerous to have a dog running about loose in the ring or on the property where people are riding. If you don’t have a leash rule, or if you have a rule but don’t enforce it, you expose yourself to a lawsuit for damages if someone gets hurt.

Have a legal question? Post it in the comments below for the opportunity to be featured in a future Q&A column with Armand Leone of Leone Equestrian Law.

About the Author

Armand Leone is the founding partner of Leone Equestrian Law LLC, a New Jersey-based law firm that provides legal services and consultation for equestrian professionals ranging from riders and trainers to owners and show managers in the FEI disciplines on a wide variety of issues. Learn more about Leone Equestrian Law LLC at equestriancounsel.com.

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