Thoughts on Show Releases/Waivers

I just went through a tough decision (for me) to withdraw from a show that I dreamed of participating in for years due to the release/waiver. It made me wonder about show waivers in general. They are all different, but some are very similar. So I was wondering how many folks out here 1) read the releases, and 2) decide whether or not to show based on the release, and I guess 3) participate in shows even though you don’t really like the release, etc. I know we have quite a few attorneys on the forum and those with knowledge of the law. In particular, I have a problem with a lot of indemnification clauses.

I’m going to show part of a release here, but I will not publicly identify the show. I am not “mad” at the show or anything like that. And it’s the attorneys behind the scenes who write these things. So, this is the one that I had trouble with. (Bolding is mine.)

" Waiver of Liability, Indemnification, and Hold Harmless
Participant hereby voluntarily waives, releases, forever discharges, and agrees to indemnify, covenants not to sue, and holds harmless Releasees from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action that occur at the Event (including, without limitation, any claims, demands, or causes of action that are in any way connected with participation at the Event or the use of equipment, facilities, horses, or bringing horses at or to the Event) arising from actions, non-actions, or negligence of Releasees, third parties, animals, or any other cause whatsoever . Should Releasees or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorneys’ fees and costs to enforce this Agreement or defend a claim made by Participant, Participant agrees to indemnify** and hold them harmless for all such reasonable fees and costs. Furthermore, Participant agrees to not allow anybody to ride a horse under Participant’s care at the Event who has not signed this liability waiver. Also, Participant represents that Participant has adequate insurance to cover any personal injury, medical expenses or damages (personal, equine, or property). Participant may suffer or cause injury while participating at the Event or within or around the facilities at the Event, and agrees to bear the costs of such injury or damages."

I actually did email the show about this. This is what my concerns were: *"The concerning provisions are highlighted above. More succinctly, your release would require me to “ indemnify … any and all claims, demands, or causes of action … arising from actions, non-actions, or negligence of … third parties, or any other cause whatsoever. Should Releasees … be required to incur attorneys’ fees and costs to enforce this Agreement or defend a claim made by Participant *, Participant agrees to indemnify [Releasee] for all such reasonable fees and costs .” In layman’s terms, if a third party, for example another participant, commits a negligent act and injures someone else and that someone else decides to sue you, then I would be required to “indemnify” their claim (“any and all claims”), your attorney’s fees and costs of litigation. This would be so even if I personally had nothing to do with the negligent act or the claim brought by the injured party. Note that by using the legal term “indemnify” you would be requiring me to guarantee against any loss which you might suffer as a result of any lawsuit (“any and all claims”). Additionally, you are requiring me to indemnify against any loss you may incur from “any cause whatsoever”. Again, if a lightening strike, for example, injures someone and they decide to sue you, this release would require me to guarantee payment of any damages a court may adjudge against you, even if I had absolutely nothing to do with the lightening strike or the decision by the injured party to institute a lawsuit.

I have absolutely no issue with releasing and holding you harmless from any injuries incurred by me and to indemnify you from any awarded damages, attorneys’ fees and costs if I or anyone on my behalf should seek to sue you for those injuries. In other words, from any and all claims made by me or an agent acting on behalf. But I do not see how you can expect me to pay for any losses you incur as a result of a “claim” brought by someone who may have nothing to do with me or my actions."

I know most people probably think that they sign these things all the time and nothing has ever happened. But what if? I don’t want to risk my assets, etc. for the possibility that some little child gets hurt badly and seeing that a child cannot sign away their rights with any waiver, their next friend sues the show, and the show’s insurance company decides to go after participants to pay off a big settlement. Will it happen, maybe not. Or maybe even it’s unlikely. But if it does?

Now, some other shows I do participate in do not have such an indemnification clause, thankfully, so I show there. But I’m really heartbroken over this one, as it was a bucket-list-type of show.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I guess I’m just venting a bit.

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Can you give an example of a situation in which you feel you could be sued for an injury caused by the negligence of a 3rd party where you were uninvolved & not acting in a negligent manner?

A kindred spirit. I just declined a quote from a shipper for similar reasons.

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Yes, I can give an example. Again, I’m not saying this is likely, but it is “possible”.

Six-year-old child gets trampled and killed by someone else’s runaway horse because they negligently allowed the horse to walk freely (we have actually seen this at shows) and it spooked.

You had agreed to indemnify the show grounds for “any and all claims whatsoever” without limitation.

Kid’s family sues show grounds and wins a million dollar judgment. Show grounds sends you a demand letter citing the indemnity clause you agreed to and demanding you cover the judgment. You refuse.

Show sues you to enforce indemnity clause and force you to cover the million dollar judgment.

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Can you point to any legal precedence or case law in the state in question? I only ask because I live in a state where spectators would usually fall under the category of participant under state equine activity liability laws, so I’m unfamiliar with precedence in states where that isn’t the case. Event organizers would also be required to carry a blanket policy that covers damages for accidental injury or death. The damages in your hypothetical example would be covered under that blanket policy.

I can’t imagine a scenario where the responsibility for damages would ever go thru the event organizer to the level of participants. Let alone singling out an individual participant. Granted, I’m an insurance person & not a lawyer. Might be worth running it past an equine lawyer in your state? I can’t imagine a quick consult on this costing more than $100-200.

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In a case where I’m personally sued I would expect my umbrella liability or personal horse owner’s liability insurance to respond. But I doubt their lawyers would be thrilled that I had signed such a thing.

The shipper wanted a release for everything that was in any way connected with transporting the horse, even in the case of their own negligence. No indemnification though. That’s extra special.

Also: lawyers should be forced to diagram these sentences that contain 15 commas.

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Indemnify doesn’t have the same meaning as guarantee, though.

The way I’m reading the clause is that you agree to indemnify and hold harmless the Releasee (I’m assuming “Releasee” = the event organizer) from claims that occur at the event arising from any actions, non-action, or negligence of Releasees or third parties.

So if a horse gets loose and tramples a six year old, but it’s not your horse nor your six year old, you aren’t involved. If a third party’s horse gets loose and tramples you, you have agreed to not sue the show organizer. You can still sue the horse’s owner. If a lightning strike injures someone on the grounds, you aren’t involved, and this indemnity wouldn’t come into play. It’s not saying you have to guarantee any loss suffered by the show organizer.

It might change depending on your state laws, but that is how I interpret the clause.

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Can you point to any legal precedence or case law in the state in question? I only ask because I live in a state where spectators would usually fall under the category of participant under state equine activity liability laws, so I’m unfamiliar with precedence in states where that isn’t the case.

Response: Tennessee IS a state that has an equine limited liability statute but the law is not as protective as people think. I emphasize the word “limited” because it does not remove all liability. Under Tennessee law, an equine activity sponsor, equine professional or any other person cannot be liable for an injury to or death of a “participant” resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities. T.C.A. 44-20-103. By definition, a “participant” means any person who “engaged in an equine activity” whether or not a fee is paid. Also, under the statute, a “spectator at an equine activity” is NOT included in the definition of “engages in equine activity” unless the spectator was “in an unauthorized area and in immediate proximity to the equine activity.” (Notice the conjunctive “and”.) T.C.A. 44-20-102. The law also specifically excludes its applicability where the entity owned, leased, or rented the facility and a “dangerous latent condition” existed that was known to the person and for which warning signs had not been conspicuously posted. Also excluded is “willful or wanton disregard for the safety” of others and intentional injury. Lastly, the law requires the posting of specifically worded warning signs throughout the facility. So you can see there are countless scenarios where the equine limited liability law would not protect a show sponsor.

Applying the law to my original hypothetical, the little child would be a “spectator”. If the child was sitting in a bleacher where he/she was authorized to be when he/she was run over by the runaway horse, then the equine limited liability law would not protect the show sponsor from liability. In fact, the law has not protected many equine professionals in scenarios where you would assume it should. In Jordan v YMCA of Middle Tennessee, Case No. M2209-02369 (2010), a young woman was thrown from a horse at a camp operated by the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, breaking her arm. Unbeknownst to the woman, the same horse had thrown two experienced riders ten days earlier. She filed a suit for negligence against the YMCA and the camp, alleging that their employees and volunteers knew the horse to be dangerous, but that they nonetheless failed to ascertain whether she was sufficiently experienced to handle such an animal. The YMCA asserted the equine limited liability law as a defense. But the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that not only was it a question of fact whether YMCA should have tried harder to ascertain the rider’s abilities but also, because there was construction in the vicinity and because there were questions about how close the construction was, how noisy or disruptive, and whether it fell under the definition of “dangerous latent condition”, the case should proceed to trial. To be sure, YMCA may have prevailed at trial. But even if it did, it would have incurred attorneys’ fees and other costs, such as deposition costs, etc.

By signing a document where you agree to “indemnify” the show sponsor for “any and all claims whatsoever”, including for attorneys’ fees and costs, you have agreed to pay for those fees and costs regardless of whether they ultimately prevail or not. And that is the point of this discussion – that is, for those who sign such agreements, do they know what “indemnify” even means, do they know what they are actually agreeing to, and have they weighed the benefits to showing at a show that requires you to agree to such an all-inclusive indemnity contract vs the risks?

Event organizers would also be required to carry a blanket policy that covers damages for accidental injury or death. The damages in your hypothetical example would be covered under that blanket policy.

Response: This is certainly an assumption but how many check to see if this is true? The show sponsors never indicate in the sign-up forms that they are insured nor what that insurance covers nor the limits of liability. A small child who is killed by the hypothetical runaway horse might have grown up to be a brain surgeon making millions of dollars a year over his/her lifetime. What insurance policy does not include limits of coverage? None, that I know of, have unlimited coverage. Again, the question is do you know what you are actually agreeing to do – “indemnify all claims whatsoever” – and have you weighed that risk to the benefit of showing at that show?

I can’t imagine a scenario where the responsibility for damages would ever go thru the event organizer to the level of participants. Let alone singling out an individual participant. Granted, I’m an insurance person & not a lawyer. Might be worth running it past an equine lawyer in your state? I can’t imagine a quick consult on this costing more than $100-200.

Okay, just so you know where my thoughts are coming from, my husband is a lawyer. He can’t imagine a scenario where an injured participant or spectator would NOT at least try to hold the show sponsor liable, especially if they were insured. If you knew you were agreeing to indemnify the show sponsor for all claims whatsoever and you weighed the risks vs the benefits and concluded that you could not imagine a scenario where the risk would come to fruition, that’s fine, you’re willing to knowingly and intelligently assume that risk – but are you really willing to take the risk for the benefit of showing at a particular show? Especially when it is unreasonable for a show sponsor to insist on this kind of all-inclusive indemnity clause? It’s so one-sided.

I appreciate everyone’s thoughts. This is intriguing to me.

I think there are enough things to worry about with horses. Show waivers aren’t even on my list. I’ve never heard of any case where the participants in a show (or any other sporting event) were required to pay the legal fees of the show organizer for an incident that didn’t involve the participant in any way.

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regarding a “six year old”…many states will not allow a waiver that is signed by a parent or a legal guardian to be enforceable to waive the rights of the minor

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And that’s an absolutely valid thought, Gardenhorse. I just was curious if folks knew what they were signing. If you understand it, and still feel like it is safe to sign, at least you know what you are signing. I have no problem with that.

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Yes, exactly.

I’ll admit, I read show rules a lot more carefully than I do the waiver! I usually skim through it.

Would I sign this? Yes, because even in the worst case scenario I think a court would find it unenforceable as a matter of public policy. (CA perspective, and my opinion, not meant as legal advice!) Plus I don’t think a large, reputable organization would want that bad PR of suing participants for something they are not responsible for.

But I also think you’re justified in your decision, if you aren’t comfortable with it. I don’t recall seeing similar language in shows I’ve attended, but maybe now I’ll actually pay more attention just out of curiosity! Did you get a response from the organizers?

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Don’t forget that the show has their own formidable liability policies in place. Typically, some sort of blanket policy, which is what commercial common carriers like airlines & bus companies use. No, you will not be made privy to their coverage limits. No insured in their right mind makes that information known. People would be throwing themselves in front of runaway horses in hopes of getting rich off an insurance payout if they did.

I’m not understanding the how & why of the conclusions you’ve drawn. Intent is one of, if not the primary determining factor in resolving contract dispute. And for precisely the reason you have brought up – it prevents people from clogging up the courts suing each other every 5 seconds on the basis of interpretation that no reasonable person would argue is correct. Clearly the intent of the language in this waiver is to describe what rights by this contract I as an individual have to sue the show company. i.e. - they’re warning me if I do it despite my promise in the form of this signed contract, they are going to ask the court to hold me responsible for the legal fees incurred defending themselves against my suit.

But let’s suppose for a moment that wasn’t the intent. How do we arrive at a point, where, instead of suing the show management company; the owner(s), rider, trainer, & groom associated with the killer horse; the individual employees of the show management company, the landowner(s) of the show venue; the good Samaritans who tried & failed to stop the horse and possibly the local Fire & Rescue & hospital involved. The show management company has liability insurance. No doubt about it. But let’s pretend by some 1 in a billion longshot they don’t. The local government would likely get dragged into the party, too, for allowing some yahoos with no liability insurance to hold a horse show.

How do we skip over all these deep pockets to arrive at you, and only you; picked at random out of the pool of 100s of show participants who all signed the same waiver, to foot the bill for the show management company’s defense in a wrongful death suit? Or that parents get to just pick a presumed occupation for their deceased 1st grader? Everyone would claim their kid was surely the next Bill Gates & not a clerk at Wal -Mart. How would this work?

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I respect that. Can I ask, though, why then if you feel like this is unenforceable, do you think it is even included? If they would take out that clause, I would show. I think it’s included for the tiny chance something happens that they can’t cover.

I couldn’t answer why they worded it this way - I suspect it’s a result of “too many cooks in the kitchen” type drafting with some insurance folks involved. :woman_shrugging:
I’ve had situations where I look back on an old document and wondered why on earth I worded it like that. Or even worse, when you’re reading something wondering who was the crackpot that wrote it only to realize that it was you!
I know that you’ve been looking forward to this event (as I was to vicariously following you through it!), and am sorry you had to make such a difficult decision. But as they say, when one door closes another opens. Here’s to other opportunities :slight_smile:

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Thanks, TC!!

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We’re supposed to read those waivers not just blindly sign them? I didn’t even read the entire first post…do you know how many words there were there!!! That’s crazy talk, trying to make me practice my literacy!

On other news…I would not have a problem signing the waiver, if by chance someone forced me to read it, because I do not do negligent things. I do not let my horse “walk freely” (I’m assuming that means no one attached to the other end of a lead or something), She has gotten away a time or two (those plastic pieces designed to help a horse get loose quick in case of emergency…she figured out how to undo them…she isn’t even allowed slip knots anymore…) and I have fallen off and sent her running (apparently us parting ways can only be because I have been carried away by demons and she is next).

Nothing negligent though - no disregard for rules, using poorly maintained tack, allowing my horse to roam free at any time - so waivers do not concern me.

To be clear, as an example:

At home, I unclip the cross ties, take off the halter THEN put the bridle on, all in an unhurried manner.

At shows, I put the reins over her head, unclip the lead while holding onto the halter to make sure she isn’t going to be silly (she is STARVING and will only go for the grass, but once that head is down, you know you don’t have as much control), then take off the halter with a hand under her chin and around her nose to keep her focused on the task at hand (putting the bridle on).

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I would think if your horse ran over a 6 year old and they circuitously ended up suing you, it isn’t the lawsuit you have to worry about. Sure, they may not win but you are left drowning in lawyers fees. My husband and I are in the medical field. $200K+ in lawyers fees even for cases that are unsuccessful is still devastating. This is something I never gave thought to, PF. Makes me want to insure my horse for bad behavior. I always picture him sitting on the hood of someones car at an event and costing me thousands in car repair.

In this case, she isn’t hypothesising her horse running over the child, but a horse running over the child. While she is a complete stranger to all & on the opposite end of the show grounds.