Florida's Equine Activities Liability Act
Summary: The importance of posting warning notices or having equine activity participants sign a document containing the warning notice is highlighted by Florida case law interpreting Florida's Equine Activities Liability Act.
Does your farm have equine liability notices posted? Do you obtain signed releases from visitors to your farm? A 2016 decision by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal reinforces the importance of complying with the requirements of Fla. Stat. Chapter 773, referred to as the Equine Activities Liability Act, to obtain immunity from liability due to the inherent risks of equine activities.
In Germer v. Churchill Downs Mgmt., 201 So. 3d 721 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016), the defendant horse and stable owners were shielded from liability after the Plaintiff, Germer, was bitten by a horse while walking through a barn at Calder Race Course to see a friend’s horse that was stabled at the track. Germer sued the horse’s owner and the stable, alleging they were negligent in allowing the horse to bite Germer. The defendants countered that Florida Statute Chapter 773 shielded them from liability. The case turned on a particular provision in the statute that shields defendants from liability if the victim was engaged in an “organized event or activity.” In this case, the Court determined that the defendants were immune from liability under Florida Statute Chapter 773 because the stable required Germer, a former jockey, to obtain a guest pass in order to access to the stable area. Thus, the stable’s security protocol constituted an “organized event or activity” and shielded the defendants from liability. In this case, Germer had signed a document containing the warning notice, thus this was not an issue in the case. However, the Court noted that, “[i]n order for an equine facility to avail itself of section 773.02’s exculpation, the Act requires the posting of the following warning notice:
Under Florida law, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.”
If Germer had not signed a document containing the required warning notice, the outcome likely would have been much different.
In McGraw v. R&R Investments, 877 So. 2d 886 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004), the appellate Court ruled that a horse owner was not shielded from liability by Florida's Equine Activities Liability Act because the horse owner failed to post the necessary warning notice. Thus, the horse owner was liable for the injuries sustained by the trainer who was thrown by the owner's horse.
The take home message is clear: in order to avail oneself of the protections of the Equine Activities Liability Act, one must either post signs or have the participant sign a document containing the warning. I advise my clients to do both. Written releases are valuable, as they can broaden the immunity from liability and provide protections that the Act alone does not. If you don’t already have a release or would like to have your current release reviewed, contact my office and I will be happy to assist you.
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