It is important to be aware of when you may be liable for injury and loss caused by horses that you own or manage. If you have horses, there is always a risk that a horse you own or care for may injure someone or cause damage to other horses or property, whether on your own property or at an event. This damage might include a horse that you own or care for infecting other horses with a disease.

How could I be liable?

In order to be found liable, several things need to be established:
• You had a duty of care
• You breached that duty of care
• The breach caused damages or loss

In brief, a duty of care exists when a person ought to reasonably foresee that his or her conduct may be likely to cause damage to the other person, or a class of people to which that other person belongs. A breach of that duty is an action (or failure to take an action) that is contrary to your duty of care. If that action then causes someone to suffer a loss, then that person may be liable.

Here is an example. You bring a contagious horse onto a property with other horses, which then causes other horses to fall ill. This action of bringing the contagious horse onto the property may likely cause some loss to the owners of the other horses (for example, vet bills). In this scenario, it is possible that you may be found liable for the costs incurred by those other owners in treating their horses.

A court in this scenario would look at what happened in this regard, such as whether you knew that the horse was contagious, whether you followed any isolation quarantine period, whether you had the horse examined by a vet prior to arrival and a whole host of other potentially relevant facts and circumstances. The court may also need to look at actions or inactions of the other horse owners in some circumstances, to see if they contributed to the losses.

What could I be liable for?

The basic rule in the law of damages is that the damages are intended to put the person back in the position he or she would have been in if the wrong had not been committed. So in our example above, you may be liable for the owners’ costs of treating the horses for the contagious disease.

Of course in reality, it is likely to be much more complicated than this example. Evidence needs to be produced. The law surrounding the spread of diseases in horses and damages is not settled. The applicable legislation in the jurisdiction and the individual facts of a given case vary.

It’s important to understand the liability for horse owners and agistment centres. We recommend that you follow a proper protocol regarding biosecurity – assistance and information can be obtained from sources such as your veterinarian, Animal Health Australia, Safe Industries Australia and the various relevant government departments.