Legal Questions and Answers for the Horse Community

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Rachel Kosmal McCart
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Disease Outbreak: When is a Boarding Stable Liable?

Q: At my boarding stable, several horses were recently diagnosed with Strangles. I am concerned that the barn manager is not segregating these infected horses from the healthy horses or even telling other boarders that the horses have Strangles. The only thing that has been done is to tell us none of our horses can leave the premises ?no one is controlling access to the sick horses. Meanwhile, I am afraid to use the riding arenas, round pens and other common areas, because my horses might be exposed to contagion. Does the boarding stable have any liability if my horses get sick? What about a refund on board because I cant use the facilities?

A: Strangles, or Streptococcus equi , outbreaks happen fairly routinely at boarding stables. Because the risk of contracting Strangles is so high, every boarding facility should require incoming horses to show proof of vaccination for Strangles (or a titer showing that the horse has sufficient antibodies to warrant not vaccinating), and require existing boarders to show proof of ongoing vaccination. Quarantining new arrivals is also a best practice to prevent the spread of all contagious conditions. Horse owners also have a duty to vaccinate their horses against Strangles and other contagious diseases.

When a boarding facility is on notice that Strangles may be on the premises, it has a duty to follow its veterinarian's advice regarding containing the contagion. If the stable fails to follow recommended procedures, such as quarantines and disinfection, they may have liability if additional horses become ill or die. It is "may" only because you would have to be able to show that the horse became infected AFTER the condition was discovered on the property and that the failure to follow protocols was a direct cause of the new infection. Damages would include vet bills and upon death, the value of the horse.

As far as quarantines and use of the facilities, reduced use of the facilities because of a disease outbreak is an ordinary risk of boarding at a stable, one that is not legally actionable. In fact, reduced use of the facilities will help contain the spread of infection and likely result in earlier reopening of the facilities. The stable has no practical choice other than to limit use of the facilities.

If you (or anyone else) were to break quarantine and move your horse to another facility, and you didn't tell the new facility that your horse had been exposed to Strangles, you could be liable if and when other horses at that facility became infected.

More Information about Strangles:

About the Author: Rachel Kosmal McCart, the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, is a lifelong horsewoman and experienced lawyer. Equine Legal Solutions, the Legal Counsel with Horse Sense TM , offers a full range of legal services for the horse community, including dispute resolution, customized contracts and risk management assessment.
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