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Spinal Research



Liability Question



-- Posted by WelshFox  Sep. 28, 2001

The yard I keep my horses on has had rubble (bricks, mud with wire poking out etc.) dumped into the field where the horses are grazing at the moment.  They will not move the horses to another field and so they are stuck grazing with the rubble.

Due to this having been dumped at the bottom of the field where there water is, the horses are quite often grazing around it.  This rubble is, in theory, going to become our outdoor school but at the moment it is in the field with a digger and also an old tractor.

If one of my horses should injure themselves on this rubble, where do I stand?

Am I admitting responsibility by letting my horses graze in this field?

I really would like to move my horses out, but as they won't let them change into another field and trying to find another yard to take 3 horses is almost impossible, I am a bit stuck!!

There is no point in trying to get the other people on the yard to rally together, so to speak, and all of us approach the yard owners as no one else seems to give a damn and the couple that do, won't speak to the yard owners.  As the owners have their own horses in the field too (5 of them with one in foal) they're not going to worry about my horses when they don't care about their own!

-- Posted by ammatthews 

I would've thought if you have spoken to the yard owner, but they've refused to move the horses then it is their responsibility if one of the horses is injured. Might be worth putting it into writing too. (obviously these thoughts are not backed up by any legal knowledge!)

But you still want to make sure your horses are not injured.

I think even if this situation is resolved, you should seriously try to find a new yard. Sounds like they do not care enough about the horses.

-- Posted by JanetGeorge 

The livery yard owner would certainly be liable for any injury to your horse, although any award could be reduced by your 'contributory negligence' (as in you knew the stuff was there and that it might be harmful but allowed your horse to graze there.)

It is a problem - but if it's any consolation, MOST horses are quite sensible about avoiding hazards they KNOW are there.  But if the rubble, machinery etc are in a suitable corner, would the owners agree to fence them off with some electric tape??

-- Posted by WelshFox 

Even though my horses are insured, it will still cost me the 100 excess should I need the vet.  Although that's not the point as I don't want any of mine injured in the first place.

It really is so difficult to find somewhere to move 3 horses to.  The only ones I can find will cost 60.00 per month more than I am currently paying!  I don't mind paying a bit more but 60.00 extra is a lot of money.

-- Posted by issyhotten 

Why not buy your own electric fence equipment, and block off the dangerous obstacles?.

-- Posted by Cob Nut 

If your horse should be injured on this rubble, you have a strong case for arguing that the yard owners are liable to compensate you for your loss. They have contracted to provide suitable turnout and grazing for your horses, and your argument will be that a field with this rubble in it does is not suitable.

Your case will be much stronger, however, if you give them notice (in writing, keeping a copy so that there can be no argument about it later) stating that you do not consider this arrangement to be safe or suitable and that you consider it to be a breach of their contractual duty to provide adequate turnout and grazing. This will also provide a safety net against the risk (which I do not, as it happens, consider to be all that great) of their being able to argue for a reduction of any damages on the grounds of contributory negligence on your part, as it would show that you had been alert to the risk and had done everything in your power to avert it. So much for legal theory. The danger with such a strategy is that many people do not like receiving notices of this kind, and it may provoke the reaction "If that's your attitude, I don't think I want you on my yard" accompanied by notice to leave the yard at the end of whatever contractual notice period you have. This is a risk which you will need to weigh in the balance when deciding what to do, especially since you say that alternative livery is hard to come by and more expensive.

Again, this is all very well, but it is addressed to what will happen if your horse is injured. Prevention being better than cure, I think there is much to be said for the suggestion that you might wish to fence it off yourself. However, technically speaking, erecting a fence on somebody else's lend (even land which you are paying to graze your horse on under a livery contract) is a trespass. There is nothing you could do to prevent the livery yard owners taking your fence down (although, provided you have told them that you are erecting a fence and that the fencing belongs to you, and provided it is of a temporary rather than a permanent character, they must return the fencing to you and could in theory be prosecuted for criminal damage or theft if they were to destroy or dispose of it - another very high risk strategy, albeit very satisfying!).

A third alternative (again with a certain risk of being branded a troublemaker and being given notice to leave) is to inform the livery owners that you are of the opinion that while there is this pile of rubble in the turnout paddock it is unsafe, that they are therefore in breach of their contractual duty to provide safe turnout, and that until they fence it off or otherwise make it safe you will be reducing the amount that you pay for livery to reflect the fact that they are providing stabling, care and feed (or whatever it is) but NOT safe turnout. This option carries a number of other risks, however, and I do not think it is wise to pursue it unless you are certain that the threat of a reduced income will be sufficient to induce them to fence it off. The main risks are the scope for disagreement as to how much of the livery fee should be allocated to each component (unless you get regular itemised bills with a full break down); and also the fact that if the reduced payment WERE accepted by the livery owner, they would then be able to contend that you had accepted the risks inherent in the unfenced rubble and modified the contractual payment accordingly. This would then mean that they probably COULD escape liability if your horse were injured by the rubble.

You face a difficult choice, therefore. I think your best bet is probably to tell them you think it is dangerous and ask them to fence it off. If they say they do not see the problem, ask if they have any objection to your fencing it off just to keep your mind at rest. If they have a problem with this, then I really think you should be looking for another yard if you can possibly afford to do so. If you find a suitable one, you will at least have an ace up your sleeve: rather than being tied in to a minimum notice period, you will be able to say that the livery yard owners are in breach of contract by not providing safe turnout, and that you accept this breach as bringing the livery contract to an end. This will enable you simply to walk away from the yard without any obligation to give any contractual payment in lieu of notice, because there will be no contract under which such an obligation could arise. Again, however, it is not 100% certain that a judge would see it this way if the livery yard owner were to sue for a contractual payment in lieu of notice, especially if you have not made your move quickly. He may take the view that by not objecting to the breach immediately you have acquiesced in the breach, and that if you wished to rely upon the breach as terminating the contract you should have done so immediately.

So, several options, none of them ideal. If you decide to pursue any which might lead to confrontation, I would suggest that you start by taking some photographs showing the rubble and the things in it which you think constitute a hazard to the horses, so that there is a permanent record after the school has been laid.

-- Posted by WelshFox 

Thank you all for your replies, Cob Nut especially.

I think I am really going to have look hard for another yard.  I know there is one that I could move my lot to, which would cost 30.00 per month extra.  The only thing with this yard is that the horses have to be stabled at night during the winter and my Section D hates to be stabled and generally climbs out!!!

I will take some photo's this weekend of the rubble.  I would love to be able to fence it off but it is a huge field and the water supply is behind the rubble.  If I fence off the whole of the rubble area then I am fencing off the only water supply in the field.

The horses are climbing on it and over it.  When I raised concerns, especially about my TB who cuts himself whenever he looks at something sharp, let alone actually stands on it, I was told that there were lots of TB's in the field and they were all fine and the rubble is of no threat to them.

-- Posted by Cob Nut 

One further point, Welsh Fox, which I ought to have made in my earlier posting. If it comes to a confrontation with the yard owner, who clearly does not consider the rubble to be a danger to the horses, then you need to bear in mind that none of my suggested remedies will stand up if, at the end of the day, the District Judge does not agree with you that it is dangerous. In these circumstances he would say that there has been no breach of contract and you must fulfil your side of the bargain.

Judges being mere humans, and human nature being what it is, I fear that the "QED kneejerk" may come into play. That is, while no horse has yet been injured by the rubble, the balance is probably tipped in favour of the yard owner (unless it is blatantly and obviously hazardous even to the most casual observer): the balance will only tip firmly in your favour once a horse has actually been injured on it.

Depressing, I know, but that is often the way the world works, even in legal disputes.



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