Race Horse Trainers "Guilty Until Proven Innocent"

"Absolute insurer rules" and "trainer liability rules," common in horse racing and other equine sports, presume that trainers are responsible when their horses test positive for illegal substances.  In effect, the rules make trainers guilty unless proven innocent.

The effect of this presumption is to shift the burden of proof from the governing body to the trainer, who must prove innocence by showing  that he or she did not negligently administer a prohibited substance to the horse or did not negligently allow someone else to interfere with the horse.  These rules can result in the imposition of a penalty against the trainer and/or the horse's owner without actual proof of guilt.

Courts have uniformly upheld the absolute insurer rules, despite the fact that they appear to violate the due process of law.

The New York Court of Appeals (the court of last resort in New York), held that "...the trainer responsibility rule is a practical and effective means of promoting these State interests--both in deterring violations and in exercising sanctions.  The imposition of strict responsibility compels trainers to exercise a high degree of vigilance in guarding their horses and to report any illicit use of drugs, medications or other restricted substances by other individuals having access to their horses.  Additionally, the rebuttable presumption of responsibility facilitates the very difficult enforcement of the restrictions on the use of drugs and other substances in horse racing.  Indeed, it would be virtually impossible to regulate the administering of drugs to race horses if the trainers, the individuals primarily responsible for the care and condition of their horses, could not be held accountable for the illicit drugging of their horses or for the failure either to safeguard their horses against such drugging or to identify the person actually at fault.  It is not surprising, therefore, that trainer responsibility rules have been upheld almost without exception, in other jurisdictions."  Casse v. New York State Racing and Wagering Authority, 517 N.E.2d 1309, 1312 (N.Y. 1987).  See also Allen v. Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, 136 S.W.3d 54 (KY App 2004); Fogt v. Ohio State Racing Commission, 210 N.E.2d 730 (Ohio Ct. App. 1965); Sandstrom v. California Horse Racing Board, 189 P. 2d 17 (Cal. 1948).

For detailed discussion of the application of agencies and organizations in the horse industry, see The Complete Equine Legal & Business Handbook by Milton C. Toby.

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