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With its ancient mountain ranges, prairies, and mesas and cowboy and western heritage, horses and cattle are a strong part of the state’s image and identity.
Like other states, Oklahoma realizes that its citizens engage in livestock activities – including equine activities – both recreationally and commercially. The legislature enacted protections for livestock activities and the general public, but it’s important to understand where the law stands.
OK ST T. 76 § 50.1., or the Oklahoma Livestock Activities Liability Limitation Act, offers liability protection from injuries resulting from the “inherent risks” of livestock activities, assuming the equine professional is acting in good faith and consistent with industry standards.
“Injuries” is the key word, because the Act doesn’t limit liability from death caused by the inherent risks of livestock activities.
The equine professional may include livestock activities sponsors, participants, and livestock professionals. “Equine” may refer to a horse, pony, mule, donkey, or hinny, and “equine activity” may refer to competitions, fairs, shows, performances, or parades (including dressage or hunter/jumper shows, rodeos, performance riding, etc.), training or teaching activities, boarding, and riding. This extends to test riding or evaluating a horse that belongs to someone else, such as in sale situations, and performing farrier or veterinary services.
Dangers or conditions which are an integral part of livestock activities, including but not limited to:
This protection doesn’t extend to the employees of equine professionals who are injured in the course of performing their job duties. Instead, this is covered by workers’ compensation and NOT under this Act.
Finally, equine professionals not acting in good faith or behaving in a grossly negligent manner are not protected by this Act. This may include intentionally injuring a participant, providing faulty equipment, or failing to recognize limitations in knowledge or skill with horses or equestrian activities.
The Act doesn’t limit liability when an equine professional fails to make the participant aware of dangerous conditions on the land or within the facility.
These are just a few of the examples of how this Act doesn’t provide unlimited protection from liability. If you’re concerned about liability for your equestrian business, it’s important to seek the advice of an equine attorney and ensure that you have liability releases and waivers.
All 50 states have statutes to address issues of livestock running at large and whether livestock owners or landowners are responsible for keeping them confined.
Much of the West is “fenced out” and follows the “open range” doctrine, which states that the duty to fence in livestock is on other landowners. Basically, landowners in remote parts of the state are required to fence off their land if they want to keep livestock out, not the other way around. Wyoming, where there’s plenty of land and few people, is a fenced out state.
Despite being part of the classic image of the West, Oklahoma is a “fenced in” state. According to Title 4, Section 155 of Oklahoma Statutes provides that the owner of livestock is liable for “all damages done by animals breaking through or over lawful fences and trespassing upon the enclosed lands of another.”
In addition, animals breaking through or over a fence may be seized as trespassing animals. This makes the owners of straying livestock strictly liable for damage caused by their animals. This may also apply to car accidents involving roaming livestock.
Oklahoma law also has a remedy for some situations. For example, if livestock trespass onto another owner’s land, they can be “distrained,” which is when property is seized to obtain payment for money owed.
According to 4 Okla. Stat. § 156, the distrainer has lien rights to the trespassing livestock and may be able to recover damages caused by the animals. This may include a special execution for the sale of the livestock to satisfy the judgment.
In short, if the livestock owner fails to keep animals fenced in and the stray animals wander onto another’s property and damage crops, hay, or other goods, the livestock may be penned. Then, the property owner must notify the livestock owner to notify them and work out payment for the damage. If that’s not possible, the livestock may be sold to satisfy payment.
In the interim, the property owner has a possessory lien on the livestock and may retain them, but they must provide adequate care to the animals. The property owner may also be entitled to reimbursement for the cost of boarding, feed, hay, and any other costs associated with care.
In the state of Oklahoma, livestock, or domestic animals, includes horses, cattle, swine, sheep, goats, and exotic livestock. Any animal that isn’t considered wild generally falls into the category of livestock, except domestic house pets like dogs and cats.
Not necessarily. The owner has a duty to exercise ordinary care in keeping animals from running at large and is responsible for damage to property, people, or other animals directly caused by their livestock. However, an owner may not be liable for damages caused by livestock that escaped if they exercise ordinary care in confining them. This means providing a properly maintained enclosure that is typically adequate for restraining livestock.
Most states allow horses to be ridden in designated public areas, including roads. There are some rules surrounding this activity, however. Equestrians must follow the same traffic regulations as motorcycle and bike riders, and horses aren’t permitted to roam at large on highways. Both horse and rider may need illumination at night as well. Still, it’s important to check with your local authority. Some cities don’t permit equestrians in city limits due to the inherent dangers of horses in heavy traffic.
This depends on the situation and who was at-fault for the accident. If the animal was at large and the horse caused the accident by running out into traffic, fenced-in laws may apply. Otherwise, it may fall on the driver’s auto insurance to cover the injury or loss to the horse, or it could fall on the owner’s equine insurance.
Understanding the legal issues that may arise from engaging in equine activities or running an equine business is key to protecting yourself, avoiding headaches, and keeping the experience enjoyable.
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