Texas Farm Animal Limitation of Liability Act Warning Signs

As discussed in this prior post, Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code now includes as “Farm Animal Professionals” the following categories of service providers, provided that their services are provided for compensation:

1)      A person who rents to a participant a farm animal for the purpose of riding, driving, or being a passenger on the farm animal;

2)      A person who rents equipment or tack to a participant;

3)      A person who examines or administers medical treatment to a farm animal as a veterinarian; and 

4)      A person who provides veterinarian or farrier services.

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The Act now requires Farm Animal Professionals to post and maintain a sign containing the following warning language in a clearly visible location if the professional manages or controls a stable, corral, or arena where the professional conducts a farm animal activity:

WARNING

UNDER TEXAS LAW (CHAPTER 87, CIVIL PRACTICE AND REMEDIES CODE), A FARM ANIMAL PROFESSIONAL IS NOT LIABLE FOR AN INJURY TO OR THE DEATH OF A PARTICIPANT IN FARM ANIMAL ACTIVITIES RESULTING FROM THE INHERENT RISKS OF FARM ANIMAL ACTIVITIES.

The Act also requires all Farm Animal Professionals to include the above warning language in every written contract that the professional enters into with a participant for professional services, instruction, the rental of equipment or tack, or the rental of a farm animal. The warning must be included without regard to whether the contract involves farm animal activities on or off the location or site of the business of the farm animal professional, and the warning must be clearly readable.

I am currently unaware of any sign manufacturer that is mass-producing these new signs for purchase by the general public. This is probably because the Act just recently took effect on June 17, 2011. Farm Animal Professionals to whom the Act applies and who wish to avail themselves of the new immunities can have signs containing the specific language custom made. It is highly advisable for all Farm Animal Professionals to have participants/customers sign a written agreement for services that contains the warning language. There is nothing in the Act that prohibits Farm Animal Professionals from including additional warning, release, or indemnity language in their written agreements.

Edited to add:  As a member service, the TVMA has ordered a limited number of warning signs on weatherproof corrugated plastic and has them for sale. The signs are 8.5" by 11" and are available to members for $12 and non-members for $15. If you would like to purchase a sign, you can call the TVMA or send an e-mail to info at tvma dot org.

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Guest Post: Top Ten Pre-Purchase Exam Considerations

As a follow-up to last Thursday's post, Tips for Equine Pre-Purchase Exams, the following is a guest post by veteran Kentucky equine lawyer, Joel B. Turner, with valuable information concerning pre-purchase exams and other steps buyers can take to protect their interests in a horse sale transaction.

"As a 'horse lawyer', people usually do not call me to tell me how happy they are with their newly- purchased horses.

One of the most common calls from potential new clients (i.e. the variety that is extremely unhappy and ready to litigate) involves the post purchase discovery of a serious soundness issue. Recently during one such call I rudely interrupted the caller to interject, "Excuse me, but let me guess which joint is causing your horse an issue?" My guess was correct and the caller was dumbfounded. While it was the first for her, the same sorts of issues crop up time after time in my world.

How do you protect yourself in a situation like this? 

a) Have a veterinarian, your veterinarian, perform a thorough pre-purchase examination; and

b) have an experienced lawyer prepare a contract to close the loopholes by obtaining proper warranties/ representations from the seller. 

The combination of these two steps should provide adequate protection from the possible deceptions that so often turn an excited purchaser of a new horse into a disgruntled, if not disillusioned, victim and caretaker of an unsound horse.

Top ten pre-purchase exam considerations:

1.            Is the vet performing the exam absolutely free from any conflict of interest or possible undue influence? Make sure the vet (and any vet who is a member or employee of his/her group or practice) has never performed any services for the seller. Do not, under any circumstances, ask the seller to refer you to a vet to perform the pre-purchase exam or consult about radiographs, ultrasound images, etc.

2.            Is the veterinarian performing the pre-purchase exam willing to promptly (within 24 hours) provide a written report of his findings and make all radiographs and scans available digitally for the potential purchaser to use to obtain a second opinion, if necessary?

3.            Is the veterinarian willing to review all the vet records obtained from the seller and watch the horse being ridden (preferably by the potential purchaser) as part of the pre-purchase evaluation for soundness/coordination-neurological issues?

4.            Does the vet know how much money you intend to pay for and the purpose for which you are purchasing the horse? Share the purchase price with the vet and ask the vet to assume you are buying the horse for resale; if you want the highest level of scrutiny and are willing to pay for it, this request will put the vet on notice of your intentions and encourage a much closer look.

5.            Is the seller willing to provide all veterinary records (including all medications dispensed, radiographs, ultrasounds or nuclear scintigraphy, i.e. "bone scans" performed) for the last 18 months to two years as well as any other "therapy" records such as acupuncture, massage, shock wave, hyperbaric chamber, etc. for review by you and your vet prior to the purchase decision?

6.            Is the seller prepared to represent that, at the time of the pre-purchase exam, the horse is not under the influence of any medication, is not being treated with any substance to address any past or present physical condition experienced by the horse and is willing to allow the veterinarian to take a blood sample for drug testing to verify the accuracy of this representation?

7.            Has the horse been examined by a vet in connection with a potential purchase within the last year?

8.            Is the seller willing to represent that the horse has not had any surgery or any intra articular injections of any substance (including without limitation, corticosteroids, blocking agents or hyaluronic acid) during the seller's ownership, other than those disclosed by the seller, or if such surgeries or "joint' injections have been performed upon the horse and are disclosed, is the seller willing to identify all of the dates when such procedures were performed and what substances were injected into which joints?

9.            Is the veterinarian willing (and capable) to effectively communicate to the potential buyer the significance of the findings and provide an opinion as to the functional effect of these findings in writing promptly after the examination is completed?

10.          Is the veterinarian sufficiently experienced with the particular type of riding that the potential purchaser intends to do and the kind of work that the horse has been doing, to provide the potential purchaser with a high level of confidence that the vet understands the amount and level of work the horse will have to perform to fulfill the buyer's intended use?

This list is not exhaustive and does not address such issues as pre-purchase considerations for future breeding soundness of the horse. It is focused upon the veterinarian's performance of the pre-purchase exam for a performance horse, and the seller's willingness to make reasonable disclosures of the horse's condition. This list has a particularly narrow focus on determining if there are any pre-existing issues that could lead to unsoundness making the horse incapable in the future of performing the tasks for which it is being purchased.

In this era when aggressive veterinary intervention with lameness issues, (particularly with the prevalent use of intra articular injections of corticosteroids), is far more common, latent defects in horses may be hidden even from the experienced examining vet, if proper due diligence is not performed in conjunction with the pre-purchase exam. The combination of a) the seller's reasonable disclosures in response to the purchaser's requests coupled with, b) representations and warranties in a written purchase agreement, and c) a thorough pre-purchase veterinary exam performed by an unbiased, qualified vet working exclusively for the potential purchaser, may afford the best opportunity to avoid the heartbreak and financial loss caused by a post purchase discovery of a latent, undisclosed and undetected condition suffered by a horse after the sale is final."

 © Joel B. Turner of Frost Brown Todd LLC 2011

About the Author:  Joel B. Turner is a Kentucky attorney practicing equine-related law for the last 27 years. For Joel's full biography, click here.

Tips for Equine Pre-Purchase Exams

Having a thorough pre-purchase veterinary examination done prior to a horse sale is one of the best ways parties to a horse sale can prevent disputes and lawsuits. 

Dr. Camille Knopf, an equine veterinarian in Northern California, offered some excellent advice this week on the blog Ribbons and Red Tape:

Always, always, always have a pre-purchase exam performed. Regardless of length of familiarity with the horse or seller, there should always be a thorough pre-purchase exam performed to provide you with a complete understanding of the health of the animal you are purchasing.

Always have a veterinarian pull and store blood at the time of pre-purchase exam. This blood can be stored for several weeks. If you purchase the animal and later suspect the horse may have been under the influence of a medication at time of exam, the serum can be analyzed for medication and may provide you with legal recourse if necessary.

Be cautious in purchasing any horse where the current owner wants to choose the veterinarian for pre-purchase exam, discourages you from having a pre-purchase exam, or discourages you from using a veterinarian of your choice. Reason: Sadly, the horse business is not immune to fraud and neither is the veterinary world. By choosing a veterinarian that does not have a direct relationship with the seller, you can protect yourself from a potentially biased opinion."

Here are some additional tips for pre-purchase exams that can go a long way to help prevent litigation:

1.     Buyers will often ask sellers for a referral if they do not know any veterinarians in the seller’s area. It’s not always a sign that something is amiss if a seller recommends a veterinarian with whom the seller has a business relationship, as long as the seller discloses the relationship to the buyer. If a buyer asks a seller for a referral, the seller can provide buyers a list of veterinarians in the seller’s area and allow the buyer to choose from the list. If the seller has a relationship with any of the clinics or veterinarians on the list, the seller should disclose that fact to the buyer.

2.     Generally, sellers should not allow a buyer to take a horse off the seller’s property for a pre-purchase examination. The seller or their agent, employee, or representative should be the one to haul the horse to the vet for the exam, if necessary. If the buyer chooses a veterinarian that is so far away that this becomes unduly burdensome for the seller, the parties should work out an agreement on who will pay the transportation costs.

3.     As the term "pre-purchase exam" implies, it should be done prior to the purchase!  That is, a pre-purchase exam should be performed before any of the following occurs: a) the buyer takes possession of the horse; b) the buyer pays the purchase price for the horse; and c) the buyer receives a bill of sale from the seller. A seller can take a down payment on the horse to either refund or apply towards the purchase price, depending on whether the pre-purchase exam results are satisfactory to the buyer. However, it is not advisable for a seller to hold a check for the full purchase price and agree not to cash it while the buyer is inspecting the horse.

4.     Sellers should always encourage every buyer to get a thorough pre-purchase exam and to inspect horses either in person or through an agent prior to the purchase or delivery of the horse. This thorough inspection protects the seller just as much as it does the buyer.

5.     If the seller purchased the horse from a third-party, the buyer should ask the seller if the seller had a pre-purchase exam performed prior to the seller's purchase.  If the answer is yes, the buyer should ask the seller for a copy of the results of that exam.  

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Time to Get New Warning Signs: Equine Activity Act Amended in 2011

As of June 17, 2011, the Texas Equine Activity Limitation of Liability Act was amended to include most common farm and livestock animals. The new Act will now be called the “Texas Farm Animal Limitation of Liability Act.”

In short, the immunities related to damages arising from horse activities found in Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code [formerly referred to as the “Texas Equine Activity Limitation of Liability Act”] now apply to all “farm animals”. A “farm animal” includes: an equine animal, a bovine animal, a sheep or goat, a pig or hog, a ratite [which, in case you have never heard of a “ratite”, includes an ostrich, rhea or emu], and a chicken or other fowl. 

The 82nd Texas Legislature [regular session] adopted amendments to the former Texas Equine Limitation of Liability Act through Senate Bill 479, the text of which can be found here. While most statutory amendments and new laws from the 2011 legislative session will not be effective until September 1, 2011, the amendments to the Act became effective “immediately” upon the requisite 2/3 vote in the Texas House on June 17, 2011.

The amended statute only applies to causes of action that accrue on or after June 17, 2011. 

Notable amendments to the Act include:

  • “Farm Animal Activities” now include rodeos, “events” in general, and “handling, loading, or unloading” a farm animal;
  • Providers of veterinarian and farrier services are now included in the definition of “Farm Animal Professional” ; and
  • The Chapter 87 warning sign language that is now required to be posted by “Farm Animal Professionals” is as follows:

WARNING: UNDER TEXAS LAW (CHAPTER 87, CIVIL PRACTICE & REMEDIES CODE) A FARM ANIMAL PROFESSIONAL IS NOT LIABLE FOR AN INJURY TO OR THE DEATH OF A PARTICIPANT IN FARM ANIMAL ACTIVITIES RESULTING FROM THE INHERENT RISKS OF FARM ANIMAL ACTIVITIES.

“Farm Animal Professionals” should post new warning signs containing the updated version of the Act’s warning language. See the link above to the newly-adopted language for the warning sign language and provide same to whomever you have make new signs for your property. It will probably be a while before signs containing the updated warning language will be mass-produced and sold at places like Tractor Supply Co., feed stores, et cetera.

Related Post: Victory for Texas Horse Industry in Texas Supreme Court

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How to Avoid Liability in a Heat Wave

Nearly half of the United States is battling extreme temperatures. Surprisingly, the occurrence of a simple heat wave can expose boarding facilities and trainers to complaints and even lawsuits should a customer’s horse become ill due to extreme heat.

The Horse.com has published some good advice from veterinarians on caring for horses in extreme heat. The full articles can be found here and here, and a bullet point summary is below.

Those of you in Texas and elsewhere in the South already know this information. I am reposting it here because if a complaint or allegation ever arises over a horse that got sick due to heat at your barn, you should be able to ward off any potential liability if you have followed the guidelines generally accepted by veterinarians. 

Summary of guidelines from equine veterinarian Nancy Loving, DVM, via The Horse:

  • (Obviously) the most important thing to do is provide access to plenty of clean water
  • Add an electrolyte supplement to horses’ diets or put out salt blocks to promote drinking and restore the electrolyte balances disrupted by sweating
  • If a horse doesn’t drink well, provide a watery gruel of feed pellets vs. feeding them dry
  • Take measures to repel insects (fly sheets, fly spray, stall fans, fly strips, etc.) or encourage customers to do so if this is not a service you provide
  • If possible, keep horses in the pasture / turn out area vs. the barn during the hottest part of the day as long as there is access to shade and plenty of fresh water in the pasture / turn out
  • To avoid heat stress in horses being worked vigorously in hot weather, walk the horse periodically for 5 to 10 minutes during workouts
  • If you work a horse in the heat and think he might be susceptible to heat stress, cool him down gradually by hosing him down with cool water and scraping it away continuously until his chest feels cool to the touch and/or his temperature drops below 103.5 degrees

Horse operations that employ workers should also check out Russell Cawyer’s post on recommendations for employers who have employees working in extreme heat conditions.

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Lien for Texas Large Animal Vets to Take Effect September 1, 2009

Beginning September 1, 2009, all large animal veterinarians in the state of Texas will have a lien on treated animals to secure payment of vet bills. This lien will be effective both before and after the animal is released to the owner.
 
Prior to the effective date of this legislation, veterinarians have no statutory lien on treated animals to secure veterinary services other than board. See "Liens for Veterinarians and Farriers in Texas" (February 18, 2008)

 

As of January 2009, twenty-eight other states provide veterinarians with a statutory lien. Texas's lien is unique in that it only applies to large animals (livestock) and is not purely possessory in nature (i.e. allows repossession after the animal is taken by its owner).

*The passage of this lien doesn't mean the vet "has" to take the treated animal as payment...it's just there as an alternative collections measure.*

The final bill (S.B. 1806, proposed by this firm and carried by Senator Judith Zaffirini) will be codified in Section 70.010 in the Texas Property Code.
 
This lien may give veterinarians some leverage in getting paid for their services, even if the lien is not ultimately enforced.
 

FACTS ABOUT THE NEW STATUTE:

1) The lien will only apply to amounts that become due to vets after September 1, 2009.

2) When the vet maintains possession of the animal, the vet's lien will have priority over all other liens.

3) Once the vet relinquishes possession of the animal, the vet's lien should be filed of record in the county where the services were rendered and with the Secretary of State.  The vet's lien, post possession, takes priority in the order of filing the notice, per Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code.

The Statute of Limitations in Veterinary Malpractice Actions

Veterinarians may have several legal defenses to claims of malpractice. One of the most important procedural defenses is that of the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a state law that puts a limit on the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit, usually from the time the injury occurred or when he or she discovered the injury. If the statute of limitations runs out before the lawsuit is filed, then no legal action may be taken.  Any attempt to do so will result in the judge dismissing the suit without hearing the merits of the claim. In order to "toll" the statute of limitations (i.e. make the limitations period stop running), the plaintiff must actually file suit.  Demand letters sent to the vet or the verbal notification of a future claim do not act to toll the statute of limitations.

With veterinary malpractice cases for injury to or death of a horse, the applicable statute of limitations may be based on claims for injury to personal property in that state, as domestic animals are considered personal property of the owner.  Those cases usually have a statute of limitations of four (4) years.

For states that include veterinarians under the list of professions covered by malpractice statutes, they may be based upon statutes that set time limits for malpractice. These statues of limitations are usually shorter, typically two (2) years.

For instance, Georgia law provides a two (2) year statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions.  However, veterinarians are not included in the definition of malpractice actions, because those involve injuries to people only.  Georgia has a four (4) year statute of limitations for injuries to personal property, which would arguably apply to a veterinary malpractice claim brought in Georgia.

Importantly, the manner in which a plaintiff pleads his or her claim (i.e., whether he or she claims common negligence or malpractice) may dictate the statute of limitations.  If a negligence claim is not barred by limitations and a malpractice action is barred, a court would allow the negligence action to go forward and dismiss the malpractice action.

For more information on vet malpractice actions and the applicable statute of limitations, see Veterinarian Malpractice by Davis S. Favre.

Potential Law Suit Over Eight Belles?

Several people have asked me if I thought there would be  litigation over the death of Eight Belles after her second place finish at the 2008 Kentucky Derby on May 3.  Although animal rights activists staged a protest at the office of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority after the filly's death, I don't think there will be any litigation.  

The filly's death did not seem to be caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of any person or entity.

What did cause Eight Belles to break both front ankles?  According to the Wall Street Journal, Eight Belles' breakdown may have arisen from a variety of factors such as genetics, track surface, training methods, or medications.  Interestingly, Eight Belles and 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro were both descendants of Northern Dancer, a 1950s Thoroughbred whose racing career was cut short by leg injuries.

What is being done in the horse racing industry to prevent future breakdowns?  The Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, which first convened in 2006 after Barbaro's breakdown in the Preakness, met again in Lexington March 17-18, 2008.  The Summit promulgated its recommendations to improve racehorse welfare, and those recommendations addressed the following issues:

  1. Track Surfaces--including research and development of synthetic (Polytrack) surfaces
  2. Catastrophic injuries
  3. Racing Medication & Drug Testing Laboratories
  4. Education--focusing on training methods
  5. Regulation--to establish uniform regulation of medication and integrity issues
  6. Solutions for unwanted Thoroughbreds
  7. Promote genetic diversity of the Thoroughbred

If the Summit's recommendations are implemented, huge positive changes in the Thoroughbred racing industry could be realized.  However, according to Dan Metzger, the President of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, "miracles will not happen overnight."

 

Does a Veterinarian Have to Treat Your Horse in an Emergency?

Someone recently asked me if he had a case against an equine surgery clinic that told his local vet during a telephone conversation to not send them the mare because they did not have room for her at the clinic.  The mare died 4 hours later of colic complications, and the owner stated that she would have lived if the vet clinic had admitted her and performed colic surgery.  The mare in that case was not a current patient of the clinic.  The owner would not have a valid claim against the clinic in that case.

The decision of whether to accept an animal as a patient is at the sole discretion of a veterinarian.  This rule is set forth in Article II.E. of the the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the American Veterinary Medical Association, which applies to all veterinarians in the United States.  The Texas Rules of Professional Conduct for veterinarians codifies that rule for vets practicing in Texas.  Therefore, even in emergency situations, vets do not have to take your horse if, for example, you cannot pay for the treatment or they simply do not have time to treat your horse.

For a vet to be potentially liable to a horse owner for injury or death of their horse, a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) must first exist.  The VCPR is established when all of the following conditions are met:

1) the vet has assumed responsibility for making clinical judgments regarding the health of the horse and the need for medical treatment, and the owner has agreed to follow the vet's instructions;
2) the vet has sufficient knowledge of the horse to initiate at least a preliminary diagnosis of the medical condition of the horse. This means that the veterinarian has recently seen and is personally acquainted with the keeping and care of the horse by virtue of an examination of the horse, or by medically appropriate and timely visits to the premises where the horse is kept; and
3) The vet is readily available, or has arranged for emergency coverage, for follow-up evaluation in the event of adverse reactions or the failure of the treatment regimen.
That said, Article II.F. of the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics does say that, in emergencies, vets have an ethical responsibility to provide essential services for animals when necessary to save life or relive suffering, subsequent to client agreement. This rule allows vets to arrange with colleagues to provide emergency services when they cannot be available to provide services. If a vet believes that they don't have the experience or equipment to manage and treat certain emergencies in the best manner, the vet may offer to expedite referral to vets qualified to provide the emergency services.
This ethical rule does not rise to a "cause of action" against a vet clinic if you are not a current client and they cannot take your horse in an emergency. Further, the rule's inclusion of the phrase "subsequent to client agreement" infers that vets may only have a duty to provide or help obtain emergency services for their clients (i.e. only after a VCPR is established).
Horse owners should keep handy the contact information of the closest emergency vets or clinics in their area and use them in a true emergency. If an emergency vet is not available, ask the veterinarian who normally treats your horse to give you a protocol of what to do in an emergency situation, and keep those instructions someplace you will be able to find them quickly in an emergency.

What Happens if Lien Foreclosure Sale Proceeds Not Enough?

In many cases, the proceeds from a stock breeder's or stable keeper's lien foreclosure sale will not be enough to satisfy your debt.  In those cases, you may sue the owner for the deficiency, if any.

The law suit may not be worth it, however, as you could end up spending more on legal fees than you are owed. For these reasons, I recommend that everyone who takes a horse to be boarded or bred obtain a written contract providing an agreement for the customer to pay for your services as well as the services of third parties for their horse's care while in your possession. 

Ideally, the agreement would include either 1) credit card information from the customer and an agreement that it will be charged for your services; or 2) the customer’s agreement that you may sell their horse at a public or private sale without notice to them if their account is in arrears more than 30 days.

This is especially important for farriers and veterinarians, as Texas law does not provide them any statutory lien to secure payment for their services.

Liens for Veterinarians and Farriers in Texas

Unlike many other states, Texas does not provide veterinarians or farriers with a lien on a horse to secure payment for professional services rendered. The stableman’s lien in Texas does provide a farrier or vet who had a horse in his or her care a lien on the animal for costs of boarding the animal. Also, both vets and farriers can obtain contracts with their customers providing for a contractual lien on the animal to secure payment for work done.