Measure of Damages
A critical part of any subrogation analysis is the determination of what damages are legally recoverable from a potentially liable third party. Unique to equine claims, the owner of the horse will often choose to insure the horse for less than its fair market value to avoid higher premiums. For this reason, the insured value rarely, if ever, equates to what is legally recoverable. In most jurisdictions, the fair market value of the horse is the proper measure of damages. To prove fair market value at trial, there must be a well supported opinion given by a qualified expert in the field. Although a third party may be liable for injuring the horse and rendering it incapable of performing its intended purpose, the horse may still have a significant residual value as a breeding horse or performing a new purpose. That residual value will likely be subtracted from the overall damages recoverable through litigation. In today’s climate of frequent expert challenges, choosing the right expert who can properly evaluate these issues is essential.
In addition to seeking the fair market value of the horse, an owner often asks whether he or she may seek pain and suffering or emotional distress damages for their loss. In the vast majority of jurisdictions, these types of damages are not recoverable because there is no physical manifestation of an injury to the policy holder. The owner will be limited to economic damages, which may include a claim for business interruption, loss of future breeding rights or loss of future value.
First Dollar Out
With many horses being underinsured, first dollar out questions often arise in equine subrogation claims. It is important to be aware of the policy language and any first dollar out rules in your jurisdiction. In addition, there is no penalty for underinsuring a horse. A proration agreement is one way to effectively handle what could be a sticky situation with the insured after litigation begins. Such an agreement also provides a platform for the carrier and the policy holder to discuss the actual recoverable damages before litigation ensues. Having these discussions up front helps to manage the sometimes unreasonable expectations of the policy holder who is devastated by the loss of their equine companion.