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Understanding Minnesota’s horse liability statute

Quick facts

  • The statute protects nonprofits and those donating to nonprofits for nonprofit use.

  • The statute protects against liability for the death or injury of a person directly and willfully engaged in livestock activities.

  • Statute protection applies where the death or injury of a participant results from the "inherent risks of livestock activities."

  • There are many statute protection exceptions.

  • Livestock activity sponsors need to post visible signs that include a warning of the built-in risks of livestock activity and the limitation of liability under the statute.

This article is for informational purposes only and doesn’t provide legal advice.

Much of the horse world works under the claim that Minnesota’s horse liability statute, Minn. Stat. § 604A.12, automatically protects us from liability. But the statute isn’t a "zero-liability" law. Groups of individuals and entities aren’t protected, and many exceptions exist to deny liability protections in certain cases. Thus, you need to understand the following:

  • Who the statute protects

  • What activities the statute covers and doesn’t cover

  • The applicable liability protection exceptions

  • The warning sign posting required under the statute before the liability protections apply  

Who does the statute protect? 

The statute provides immunity to nonprofits, as well as those donating the following for nonprofit use:

  • Services

  • Livestock (which includes horses and ponies)

  • Facilities or equipment

If you’re running a "for profit" business, the statute may not protect you.

What does the immunity protect against? 

The immunity protects against liability for the death or injury of a person directly and willfully engaged in livestock activities. "Livestock activities" include, but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Transporting livestock

  • Shows, fairs, competitions, performances, races, rodeos, or parades

  • Training or teaching activities

  • Boarding, shoeing or grooming

  • Riding or inspecting livestock or equipment.

Spectators in authorized areas are expressly not protected by the statute. This means if you are sued for a spectator injury or death, the immunity won’t apply.

What events fall within the immunity? 

The immunity applies where the death or injury of a participant results from the "inherent risks of livestock activities," which are dangers or conditions built into the care or use of livestock if the activity isn’t for profit. The "inherent risks of livestock activities" include:

  • Livestock's proneness to kick, bite, buck, or charge

  • A livestock's unpredictable reaction to things like sound; sudden movement; or unfamiliar objects, persons or other animals

  • Natural dangers such as surface or subsurface conditions

  • Collisions with others

What are the exceptions to immunity?

The immunity doesn’t apply if:

  • You provide livestock for a participant, but fail to reasonably determine his or her ability to safely engage in the activity, or his or her ability to safely manage the particular livestock.

  • You provide faulty tack.

  • You own or lease the land and fail to use reasonable care to protect the participant from a dangerous man-made hidden condition

  • You are a "livestock activity sponsor" (a person who sponsors, organizes, or provides facilities for a livestock activity open to the general public), but fail to comply with the statute's notice requirement

  • You are willful or careless.

What notice requirements apply to activity sponsors?

The statute requires a "livestock activity sponsor" to post plainly visible signs at one or more eye-catching locations on the grounds where the livestock activity takes place. These signs must include a warning of the built-in risks of livestock activity and the limitation of liability under the statute.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE: This information has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state to state, so that some information may not be correct for your jurisdiction. The information can’t replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your state.

Suzanne Jones and Yvonne Ocrant, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP

Reviewed in 2018

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