Health Records and Civil Liability


If you are selling a horse, especially one to be shipped to a buyer in another state, you should take all measures necessary to ensure you have complied with state health documentation requirements. If a buyer wants to undo a sale and a lawsuit or dispute arises, the buyer will go through all documents you provided with a fine-tooth comb and attempt to find every detail you missed or your vet might have overlooked. 

For example, if you sold a 10 year-old horse and the negative Coggins certificate says the horse is 11 years old, a buyer might accuse you of fraud and report you to the state inspectors in charge of investigating health certificates. Mistakes involving Coggins tests are relatively common, especially in the case of large auctions where an owner may not be present to make sure the Coggins given to the buyer is on the correct horse and is accurate. Therefore, you should carefully review all health records on any horse you are selling and make sure all information is complete and correct (including the age, gender, color, breed, markings, and brands included on the health certificates). Most veterinarians will work with you to quickly issue a corrected certificate in an emergency situation. 

I am not aware of any law imposing criminal penalties on a horse owner because their veterinarian made a mistake in the description of a horse on a Coggins test when given correct information by the owner. It is ultimately the licensed veterinarian’s legal duty to correctly fill out the description of a horse on a health certificate. However, if a buyer is accusing you of civil liability for misrepresenting a horse, an inaccurate Coggins test provided by you might be a significant detriment to your case.

It is relatively easy to familiarize yourself with the state laws applicable to documentation required for horse sales and transportation.  USRider has compiled a database of state equine transport laws and contact information for the state veterinarian of each state. 

The Equine Infectious Anemia (Coggins) and the Quarantine & Health laws for each state can be found at the Equine Law & Horsemanship Safety website. Please note that the information on these sites might not be updated each year. Therefore, if in doubt you should pull the statutes excerpted by the sites and make sure they are current.

Photo credit: Fairplex (Flikr)

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Robert - December 9, 2010 11:32 PM

Excellent discussion highlighting a potential problem seller's could possibly face when a sale goes bad. To comment on a point raised in the article, I have some thoughts regarding the veterinarian's legal duty to "correctly" fill out a state issued Coggins test form. It can perhaps be argued that the veterinarian's "legal" responsibilty in completing the Coggin's test form is to adequately and accurately describe the animal being tested so that the owner, the state regulators (ie. TX Animal Health Commission), the testing lab, veterinarian's and other interested parties can ultimately match the animal described on the form with the animal that was actually tested. As for the age of the animal descibed on the form, at the time the Coggin's sample is drawn, the testing veterinarian is frequently unable to properly determine the actual age of the test horse for a wide variety of reasons including but not limited to: 1) absent or unsure owners/trainers/grooms, 2) the veterinarian is provided misinformation regarding the animal's age by the attendee, or 3) the testing veterinarian estimates the horse's age by "teething" the test animal. Often times in the absence of accurate age information, some prudent equine veterinarians will simply describe the test animal's age in generic terms such as "Weanling", "Adult" and avoid inserting a defenitive age the testing veterinarian feels an accurate age cannot be provided. This approach does not present any issues for those concerned because the remaining descriptive information contained on the Coggin's test (such as color; markings; drawings; permanent identification marks such as lip tattoos or brands; scars; etc.) if properly completed should provide sufficient information to concerned parties to accurately identify the horse described on any given form. In the event of sale transaction, I would think any buyer suing to rescind a sale based on alleged fraud would have an uphill battle if the only evidence to support their claim of fraud that is based on improper age is a Coggins test form. When presenting a Coggins test to a buyer, the only representation a seller/broker/agent can make to the buyer is that horse on the test is the same horse that is being sold, and that the test results on the date the horse was tested were "negative". Enjoyed the article and thank you.

Mary - February 21, 2011 4:02 PM

Thanks for the tip. This is for the good of both parties.

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