Facebook has revolutionized communication. It has connected farriers globally for the betterment of the trade. You can share work to get the advice of others, provide thoughtful advice for a fellow farrier or see what’s going on at a clinic you couldn’t attend.
But while there are tremendous benefits from using Facebook, are there potential legal consequences awaiting farriers on it?
A few months ago, I spoke with a farrier who was concerned that by answering rider or trainer questions in Facebook groups, whether he would be at risk of a lawsuit should a problem arise afterward. I don’t think that the problem would have to relate to the actual advice — just the perception of it to the rider or trainer.
Curious, I spoke to a Midwestern equine attorney, who gave us some insight while asking to forgo attribution because the subject of digital-based malpractice has never been part of her practice. There also is hesitancy to have these observations be mistaken as legal advice. There are too many state-by-state variations of law that make giving legal advice impossible for one article. However, her first observation doesn’t require any legal expertise.
“This is a litigious society, but you don’t need my legal opinion to know that,” the attorney says. “People sue over anything; the risk of litigation is always present. So, to give advice to anyone online could potentially set you up for consequence for litigation.”
She says there isn’t a bullet-proof, catch-all phrase that will protect you — say by opening every post with a disclaimer. She feels that there could be state-by-state variations on what is disclaimable and what isn’t. Some states have well-established bodies of law that hold that there are certain relationships that you cannot free yourself from liability with a release.
“Even if you could put a disclaimer out, I find in my litigation experience that the person you think is subject to will say, ‘What disclaimer? I didn’t see it.’
“Anyone following the advice you give may hold you to the standard as ‘their farrier,’ even if no money was exchanged. The farrier who replies may think this is a good-hearted exchange, but the recipient may think of it as a farrier-client relationship.”
Again, there have been no cases strictly for this in the equine world. However, the attorney also reminds that farrier litigation is always possible, but remains rare compared to the other areas of equine law. Furthermore, many farriers don’t carry liability insurance.
“Some attorneys may not want to go after a farrier who lacks it because they won’t have the wherewithal to finance a settlement or judgement,” she says. (I’ll add that’s not a good excuse to go without liability insurance.)
To Post Or Not To Post
So there is no clear legal advice here. One one hand, this has never arisen as a case. On the other, post advice for someone with bad intentions afterward, and you put yourself at risk. I say keep posting — the good far outweighs the bad.
You are more likely to be sued for a fender bender, but that won’t prevent you from driving. The concern should make you a more defensive driver, though. So maybe it is best to have the same self-protective alertness behind the keyboard that you have behind the wheel.