Equine Activity Releases for Underage Riders

You operate a sport horse barn. You are a responsible business owner and you prepared a release. You are diligent in making sure that every rider, and if underage, the responsible parent, sign the release before they ever step foot into a stirrup. However, just because you make the parents sign the release does not mean that the parent may actually be releasing all claims.

In Eriksson v. Nunnik, 191 Cal. App. 4th 826, 2011 WL 60516 (Cal. App. 2011); 183 Cal. Rptr. 3d 234, 2015 WL 332278 (Cal. App. 2015), the trainer’s release underwent extra scrutiny. The Plaintiffs were a 17 year old rider who died when she fell off jumping and her parents. The parents had signed a release but argued their claims were not barred by the release because they were not actually named as a releasing party. The release only released claims by the “rider,” not the “rider” and “parents.” Even though the release did not bar the parents’ claims directly, the court ultimately ruled in favor of the defendant trainer.

This case is not binding on Florida contracts because it is a California decision, however, rulings in other states are helpful in guiding judges. Every sport horse professional should have a release and this case shows how important it is to actually look at the language of the release. It is not enough for the parents to sign the release, but there should be language in it where the parents release their claims as well. Even though the California court said that this language was not necessary, it took a trial court and an appeal for the defendant to prevail. These legal proceedings are very lengthy and expensive. Being able to win a lawsuit is not as valuable as being able to avoid the lawsuit entirely. Additionally, a Florida court may not agree with the California opinion and reach a different conclusion.

As always, anyone with legal questions should consult a qualified attorney. This post does not constitute legal advise and is for educational purposes only.

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