If you are involved in the equine industry in Florida, then you have much for which to be grateful. Florida is arguably the most horse-friendly state in the United States. Florida's excellent climate and equine facilities attract great numbers of equine enthusiasts and business owners. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida is home to nearly every breed of horse and a wide range of equine activities. (1) These include horse breeding, raising and training, racing, horse showing, polo, rodeos, and other equine events. Florida has approximately 500,000 horses, according to some estimates, and ranks third in the country behind Texas and California. The economic impact of the equine industry in Florida is estimated to result in $6.5 billion gross domestic product, including spending by industry participants. (2) However, horses are expensive animals, and things can go wrong in any equine activity. If things do go wrong and you end up in a legal dispute, then mediation can be a very effective way to resolve the dispute.
This article describes types of legal disputes in the equine industry. We answer the "why mediation?" question, by identifying the kinds of disputes for which mediation may be more suitable, as well as those kinds of disputes for which mediation may be less suitable. We provide some examples of when and why mediation was successful and unsuccessful in equine law disputes. We give some practical nuts-and-bolts suggestions on mediation of equine law disputes, including sample mediation clauses, and we will also identify some glossaries of equine terms.
Types of Equine Law Disputes
As the title of this article implies, horse breeding is an equine activity that can give rise to legal disputes. What can go wrong are broken promises, including the quality of shipped equine semen or frozen equine semen, the failure of live cover breeding by the stallion, or live foal guarantees or sound breeding condition promises that do not pan out. Disputes can arise from undisclosed information, such as the failure to disclose the results of the testing of the horses for genetic disorders or diseases that affect the breeding process. Much of horse breeding is conducted following written contracts. The parties to a breeding contract may make certain representations and warranties, the breach of which have legal consequences, much like most other kinds of contracts. If the breach is serious, then the parties may end up in litigation. Nevertheless, if the parties are likely to want to do business in the
future, they will quickly realize that a court battle is not in either party's best interest. Mediation is a better option, if the parties want to preserve their business relationship.
Horse sales are subject to legal disputes as well. Horses are considered "goods" under Florida law, so horse sales are subject to art. 2 of Florida's Uniform Commercial Code. (3) However, horses are animals, too, and some may have conditions or dispositions unfavorable to the intended use or as represented in the contract of sale. Even in contracts under which horses are sold "as is" or in the absence of a written contract, the facts may give rise to a legal dispute, such as fraud. If so, then buyers may want to rescind the purchase transaction. Sellers are usually unwilling to return the entire purchase price. If the issues are material, then legal disputes may arise.
All horses require veterinary care from time to time. Although veterinarians are generally highly educated, skilled, and trained, they are people, and people make mistakes. Such mistakes may lead to legal disputes. For example, buyers typically rely on veterinarians to examine horses and provide a report prior to sale. Such reports may include x-rays, flexion and lameness testing results, and blood work. If a veterinarian misses something, and the sale is consummated anyway, the buyer may have a claim against the veterinarian.
Equine activity is recognized as inherently dangerous in most states. Consequently, 48 states have enacted equine activity laws. (4) These laws generally provide for owners and operators of equine activities to gain the protections of such laws against liability under certain defined circumstances, such as posting notices and getting signed releases from persons involved in equine activities. Still, despite the prevalence of such equine activity laws, horse and barn owners and operators may still be sued for damages caused to the person or property of business invitees and others. The fact patterns may differ, but often include the failure to post the proper notice, failure to obtain a proper signed release, or circumstances that fall under one or more express exceptions under the relevant equine activity law. (5)
There are many other kinds of legal disputes that may arise in the equine industry. For example, in the horse racing industry, owners and jockeys may be disciplined for failure to...