Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act - How it Affects You
Submitted by Connie Esposito
On April 17, 2011 Julie I. Fershtman, Esq. gave a talk to MDA members at the Baldwin Library in
Birmingham. She spoke about liability, focusing on the Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act. Forty six
states have an equine activity liability act and Michigan’s is one of the worst in the US. It is not a zero
liability law [see in particular 691.1665, Sec 5(d)].
Below is the handout from the lecture, highlighting key points about the act.
Michigan's Equine Activity Liability Act, 1994 P.A. 351, states, in part:
Except as otherwise provided in Section 5, an EQUINE ACTIVITY SPONSOR, an EQUINE
PROFESSIONAL, or another person is not liable for an injury to or the death of a
PARTICIPANT or property damage resulting from an INHERENT RISK OF AN EQUINE
ACTIVITY. Except as otherwise provided in Section 5, a PARTICIPANT or participant's
representative shall not make a claim for, or recover, civil damages from an EQUINE ACTIVITY
SPONSOR, an EQUINE PROFESSIONAL, or another person for injury to or the death of the
participant or property damage resulting from an INHERENT RISK OF AN EQUINE ACTIVITY.
Section 3 [key defined terms capitalized].
There is much more to know about our Equine Activity Liability Act ("the Act"). For example:
It does not end all liabilities. None of the 45 other equine liability laws across the country does
this, either. Exceptions in the law allow certain types of lawsuits to proceed [Sections 4 and 5].
Read them carefully.
Sign posting for "professionals." It requires "equine professionals" to post special warning signs
using language supplied in the Act [Section 6].
Contracts used by "equine industry professionals." The law requires "equine professionals" to
add warning language, supplied in the Act, to their written contracts [Section 6].
To better understand how the Act works, it is important to read the definitions and apply them to
the passage quoted above. Definitions are found in Section 2 of the Act.
What is an EQUINE?
Horses, donkeys, mules, ponies, and hinnies are "equines" under Section 2(b) of the Act.
Who is a PARTICIPANT?
The Act applies to, and could limit the rights of, "participants." More specifically, it applies to
accidents a "participant" may suffer while he or she is "engaged in an equine activity." A "participant" is
defined as "an individual, whether an amateur or professional, engaged in an equine activity, whether
or not a fee is paid to participate" [Section 2(g); italics added]. This definition applies with equal force to
a friend invited over for a casual ride as to a student who pays for riding lessons.
Who is an EQUINE PROFESSIONAL?
The Act protects "equine professionals." Section 2(e) of the Act says you are an "equine
professional" if you give a riding lesson or train a horse; rent a horse, equipment, or tack; or give daily
care to horses boarded at an equine facility. This section of the Act “defines "equine professionals" as
people who "breed equines for resale or stock replenishment."
What is an EQUINE ACTIVITY?
Just as the Michigan horse industry enjoys great diversity in its equine activities, the Act's
definition of an "equine activity," in Section 2(c), is diverse. Examples include shows, fairs,
competitions, and parades of many types [see, Section 2(c)(i)]. Training and teaching activities also
qualify, as do boarding and breeding operations [Sections 2(c)(ii)-(iv)]. Riding, inspecting, or evaluating
someone else's horse - regardless of whether money was paid - is an "equine activity" [Section
2(c)(v)]. Horse shoeing and hoof trimming also qualify [Section 2(c)(vii)].
What/Who is an EQUINE ACTIVITY SPONSOR?
The Act protects "equine activity sponsors." Individuals, businesses, for-profit and non-profit
groups can be "equine activity sponsors," according to Section 2(d) of the Act. The Act gives several
examples of included individuals, such as stable and farm owners, operators and promoters of a facility
which houses an equine activity, and instructors. The Act also defines "equine activity sponsors" as
groups ranging from clubs, pony clubs, 4-H, hunt clubs, and activities sponsored by a school or college
to the all-inclusive "group, club, partnership, or corporation ... that sponsors, organizes, or provides the
facilities for an equine activity."
What is an INHERENT RISK OF AN EQUINE ACTIVITY?
The Act broadly defines "inherent risk of an equine activity" as "a danger or condition that is an
integral part of an equine activity" and then lists examples. One is "[t]he unpredictability of an equine's
reaction to things such as sounds, sudden movement, and people, other animals, or unfamiliar objects"
[Section 2(f)(ii)]. This Section contemplates that other things might also be deemed an "inherent risk of
an equine activity."
The Act's Exceptions
Watch out for the Act's exceptions: they could allow liability if an "equine activity sponsor,
equine professional, or another person" does or does not do certain things. The Michigan Act's
exceptions and exclusions are summarized below:
Providing "faulty tack or equipment" that causes injury, damage or death [Section 5(a)].
Providing an equine but improperly matching it with the rider or handler and failing to determine
the rider'/handler's ability to safely manage the horse [Section 5(b)].
Owning, leasing, or having use of land or facilities that has a "dangerous latent (not obvious)
condition" but for which no conspicuous warning signs were posted [Section 5(c)].
An "equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or another person" who "commits a negligent
act or omission that constitutes a proximate cause of the injury, death, or damage" [Section
5(d)]. The law gives no examples of what would qualify as a "negligent act or omission."
A horse race meeting that is regulated under the Michigan Racing Law of 1980 [Section 4(1)].
Taking Advantage of Liability Limitations
Post and Maintain the Warning Signs
Section 6(1) requires "equine professionals" to post and maintain signs with this language:
Under the Michigan equine activity liability act, an equine professional is not liable for an injury
to or the death of a participant in an equine activity resulting from an inherent risk of the equine
This "warning" language is found in Section 6(3). As to letter size for signs, the Act states: "the warning
notice shall appear on the sign in conspicuous letters no less than 1 inch in height" [Section 6(1)].
The Act invites the use of liability releases. In this connection, Section 4(2) of the Act states:
"Two persons may agree in writing to a waiver of liability beyond the provisions of this act and such
waiver shall be valid and binding by its terms." Also, Section 6(2) of the Act requires equine
professionals to include the warning language (quoted further above) in contracts involving “professional
services,” instruction, or equipment rental, “in clearly readable print.”
Carefully Avoid Conditions that Might Trigger An Exception (and Potential Liability)
To avoid liability, it helps to understand the Act and to actively avoid circumstances that might
trigger one of its exceptions. This means, for example, make sure the tack or equipment you provide to
another is in good working condition; place noticeable warning signs near areas where people ride,
drive, or handle horses that are known to have dangerous, non-obvious conditions; before matching
someone with one of your horses to ride, drive, or handle, seek a reasonably detailed explanation of his
or her equine-related abilities and experience level and make sure those inexperienced with horses
receive basic instruction.
About the Author
Julie I. Fershtman is widely recognized as one of the nation's leading Equine Law practitioners.
A lawyer for nearly 25 years, she has successfully tried horse-related cases before juries in 4 states.
Her law practice crosses all breeds and disciplines, and she handles numerous types of disputes
frequently encountered, including business disputes, personal injury, sales disputes, partnership
disputes, contract disputes, and others. She also drafts contracts on a wide variety of equine
transactions. She is one of less than 15 lawyers nationwide (and the only from Michigan) to be named
a Fellow of the American College of Equine Attorneys.
She is the author of more than 200 published articles and 3 books. Her books are: (1) Equine
Law & Horse Sense; (2) MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense; and (3) Litigating Animal Law Disputes: A
Complete Guide for Lawyers.
A frequent speaker on Equine Law, she has spoken in 27 states at major conventions that
include the American Horse Council, U.S. Dressage Federation, U.S. Pony Clubs, American Paint
Horse Association, American Youth Horse Council, American Morgan Horse Association, Equine
Affaire, Certified Horsemanship Association, American Riding Instructors Association, NARHA, National
Conference on Equine Law, and numerous others.
She is a 1983 graduate of Emory College and 1986 graduate of Emory Law School.
For more information:
Julie I. Fershtman, Esq.
Shareholder, Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC
Phone: (248) 785-4731
Websites: www.fosterswift.com; www.equinelaw.net; www.fershtmanlaw.com
To learn more about the Bill to change the Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act, please contact
Michigan Equine Partnership
235 N. Pine St. Lansing, MI 48933
phone: 517.372.1500, fax: 517.372.1501
MDA would like to thank Julie Fershtman for this article and future articles which will be published in