Understanding Minnesota’s Equine Liability Statute

by Suzanne Jones and Yvonne Ocrant
Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP

This article begins a series on legal issues facing the Minnesota horse industry. We begin the series by discussing Minnesota’s Equine Liability Statute.

Much of the equine world operates under the pretense that we are automatically protected from liability by Minnesota’s equine liability statute, Minn. Stat. § 604A.12. However, the statute is NOT a “zero liability” law. Categories of individuals and entities are not protected, and a number of exceptions exist to deny liability protections in particular situations. It is therefore essential to understand who is afforded the liability protections, what activities are covered and not covered by the statute, the applicable liability protection exceptions, and the warning sign posting required under the statute before the liability protections apply.

Who is protected? The statute provides immunity to nonprofits, as well as those donating services, livestock (which includes horses and ponies), facilities or equipment for the use of a nonprofit. If you are operating a “for profit” business, you may not be protected by the statute.

What does the immunity protect against? The immunity protects against liability for the death or injury of a person directly and intentionally engaged in livestock activities. “Livestock activities” include such things as transporting livestock; shows, fairs, competitions, performances, races, rodeos, or parades; training or teaching activities; boarding, shoeing, or grooming; and riding or inspecting livestock or equipment. Spectators in authorized areas are expressly excluded from the statute, which means that if you are sued for a spectator injury or death, the immunity will not apply.

What activities fall within the immunity? The immunity applies where the death or injury of a participant results from the “inherent risks of livestock activities,” which are dangers or conditions integral to the maintenance or use of livestock, provided the activity is not for profit. The “inherent risks of livestock activities” include livestock’s propensity to kick, bite, buck, or charge; a livestock’s unpredictable reaction to things like sound, sudden movement, or unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals; natural hazards such as surface or subsurface conditions; and collisions with others.

What are the exceptions to immunity? The immunity does not apply if you provide livestock for a participant, but fail to reasonably determine his/her ability to safely engage in the activity, or his/her ability to safely manage the particular livestock; you provide faulty tack; you own or lease the land and fail to use reasonable care to protect the participant from a dangerous man-made hidden condition; you are a “livestock activity sponsor” (a person who sponsors, organizes, or provides facilities for a livestock activity open to the general public), but fail to comply with the statute’s notice requirement; or you are willful or negligent.

What are the notice requirements that apply to activity sponsors? The statute requires a “livestock activity sponsor” to post plainly visible signs at one or more prominent locations in the premises where the livestock activity takes place that include a warning of the inherent risks of livestock activity and the limitation of liability under the statute.

Next month we will discuss how to limit your equine liability exposure where either the statute does not apply or the exceptions apply and no liability is afforded under the statute. In addition, practical tips will be provided to expand the immunity provided by the statute itself.

Suzanne Jones and Yvonne Ocrant are partners with the law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP. The information in this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice.