Equine Law Theories of Subrogation: Part I

The recent tragedy in Florida involving the sudden and untimely death of twenty-one polo ponies raises issues about equine subrogation possibilities. In that matter, a supplement is suspected in the death of polo horses. Because a horse cannot be “preserved” for inspection as with typical property losses, particular attention must be paid up front to protect any subrogation claim. This thread will routinely provide helpful tips for the adjuster and subrogation professional with regard to equine claims.

Theories of Equine Law Recovery

There are many potential third parties to look to for a recovery in an equine loss. If the horse is injured or killed, the question is what caused the injury or death. Assuming the stable owner is not the owner of the horse, the stable owner may be a potential target. If the barn or the grounds presented a dangerous condition that caused the injury or death, a premises liability case may exist. Before going too far down this road, the boarding agreement must be obtained and examined for any waivers of liability or waivers of subrogation. The stable will often carry a care, custody and control policy, or “CCC policy,” that covers any horses that are injured while in the care of the stable. Be sure to check policy limits, however, because some policies only pay a limited amount per horse and may have a low aggregated limit.

Another potential target is the treating veterinarian. If the treating veterinarian fails to properly treat or diagnose a condition that leads to the deterioration of that condition and permanent lameness or injury, a subrogation claim may be viable. Likewise, trainers may also be potential targets for failing to recognize a problem or failing to timely seek veterinary assistance. If the trainer does not address an injury, or disregards a veterinarian’s advice, the horse could suffer additional injury or permanent lameness if pushed to exercise and work. This is properly the subject of expert testimony—thus it is critical to have an consulting veterinarian or trainer to advise whether treating veterinarian and/or the trainer failed to meet the standard of care which was the proximate cause of the injury. 

Product manufacturers, including drug companies, are another potential target. There can be any number of ways a defective product could kill or injure a horse – from a defective heater causing a barn fire, to a horse-trailer tire blowing out and causing an accident. In a fire situation, local codes should be reviewed to determine whether any fire suppression system should have been installed and maintained by the stable manager. Thinking creatively about possible theories of recovery in the early stages is invaluable to know what parties to place on notice and what evidence and documentation should be retained.

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