Most farriers complete each day having accomplished what they set out to do — helping horses. Then there are days when things go sideways and the plan goes out the window.
It’s been said countless times, but it’s worth repeating — no farrier sets out to do wrong by a horse. Yet, to paraphrase St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Often good intentions are disregarded under the best of circumstances, particularly when it comes to Fluffy.
It’s no secret that most hoof-care clients hold their horses in high esteem. Gone are the days when most consider horses as livestock. Just 21% view their mounts as livestock, according to the latest American Horse Publications survey. A whopping 67% consider their horses family members, while 63% see them as a companion animal and 56% count them as their best friend. A close nail that can be easily relieved with a crease nail puller can be viewed tantamount to assault in the mind of an overprotective owner.
Or worse, a cat decides to perform an Olympic dismount from the rafters of a barn and lands on the horse’s back. If anyone — including the horse — is hurt in the aftermath, and you have accepted care and control of the animal, the responsibility very well could land on your shoulders with devastating consequences.
We’re living in increasingly litigious times. How litigious is it? A horse in Oregon is suing its former owner for $100,000, according to The Oregonian. Yes, you read that correctly — a horse has filed a lawsuit.
So how does a horse file a lawsuit anyway? The Animal Legal Defense Fund in Portland, Ore., filed the suit on behalf of the horse formerly known as Shadow. His name was later conspicuously changed to Justice.
Authorities removed the 8-year-old Quarter Horse from a Cornelius, Ore., property after the owner’s negligence left it 300 pounds underweight. He had a skin infection, lice and was suffering from the effects of severe frostbite, according to the lawsuit. The former owner was convicted of first-degree animal neglect and sentenced to 3 years probation. She was ordered to pay more than $3,700 in restitution.
Does the civil case have merit? The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that animals could be victims, just like people.
“The Oregon legislature clearly established an anti-cruelty statute for the safety and protection of animals,” Sarah Hanneken, an attorney representing the horse, told The Oregonian. “Victims of crimes can sue their abusers and animals are sentient beings that are recognized as victims under Oregon law. So with that premise, we’ve come to the conclusion that animals can sue their abusers and we’re confident of our stance in this case.”
Should the horse win the suit, Hanneken says any amount awarded will be placed in a trust to pay for its medical costs. It also would set a precedent. What if your trimming or shoeing decision leads to a long-term medical problem for a horse? It’s reasonable to envision an increase in lawsuits against farriers.
What can you do about it? You can protect you and your assets by insuring your practice and creating an entity.
Insurance. A farrier might never need his or her liability insurance to pay out a claim. Yet, if you have assets, they are subject to a judgment. A lack of insurance could mean financial ruin.
Most farriers are not adequately insured. Just 39% of full-time farriers have liability insurance, while 27% of part-time farriers have a policy, according to the latest American Farriers Journal Farriers Business Practice survey. How much protection do you need? It’s different for everyone. Consult an accountant to ensure adequate protection.
Creating an entity. Incorporating your business will also help protect your assets. By setting up a limited liability company (LLC), limited liability partnership (LLP), limited partnership (LP) or a professional corporation (PC), your entity will own your truck, tools, etc. If you’re sued, your entity will be the target rather than you personally. Establishing a DBA — doing business as — does not protect you or your assets. Creating an entity is relatively cost-effective. State filing fees range between $50 and $500 with an average filing fee being $127. Lawyer fees could cost $1,000. However, would you rather be out $1,500 or have a horse sue for your house?