These are the things I think about when I’m idle. Two boarding contracts I read recently have a clause that states (paraphrasing) the barn is not responsible for any injury or accident that involves your horse which may result in death or permanent unsoundness.
What happens if it’s an accident or injury caused by barn negligence? Say a barn worker forgot to close a gate and the horse ran out on the highway and got killed or injured, injured or killed a motorist, totaled the car, etc. etc. Is the horse owner still liable? Who pays the injured party?
I am not an equine lawyer, but I do know it’s extremely difficult to prove gross negligence in a court. Most often the owner of the horse is liable for any damages their animal may cause, even if the horse was loose due to negligence. I carry insurance on my horses, and it’s phenomenal money spent.
The real question is ‘negligence’ (protected by statute in most states these days) vs. ‘gross negligence’ (can sue) - what’s the dividing line?
As I understand it (no legal training but some business experience), if there is a situation where any damn fool would have known that doing X means Y Harm was very likely to happen, even almost certainly going to happen, and sure enough that harm does happen, that’s gross negligence. Deliberately causing harm can also fall under gross negligence. That’s how I understand it.
Convincing a judge or arbiter that gross negligence occurred is another story. There is never a certain outcome.
Board contracts don’t mention gross negligence because they don’t have a reason to do so. The negligence waiver is intended to excuse random stuff that can happen. Including an upset owner’s insistence that something was negligence even if others don’t agree.
One example locally, several years ago, was a board barn owner who stored a bag of something that is irreversibly fatal to horses alongside the horse feed. A worker mixed it in with the feed in error. Due to lack of supervision, that went on for some amount of time before it was discovered. Every single horse in the barn died … eventually. It didn’t kill quickly. Some owners took action for gross negligence. Others did not. I don’t know the outcome of the lawsuits as I believe all were settled out of court. (Believe it or not, many people who knew the board barn owner felt he was a nice guy and did not blame him. That barn is still in business. The worker who unintentionally poisoned the horse’s feed is no longer anywhere in the area.)