Oklahoma has enacted certain protections for “livestock activities sponsors, participants and livestock professionals” by limiting civil liability for injuries inherent to such activities. An earlier blog on the Livestock Liability Limitation Act gave a general overview of what is protected by statute and what is not. In this blog I will discuss liability releases or waivers.
Do you need a liability release if Oklahoma provides protection from liability by statute? Simply put, yes. As mentioned in an earlier blog on the Act, liability protection is limited, and the Act specifically carves out certain events that would not be protected by the statute. According to Oklahoma law, parties can agree, in writing, to extend the limitation of liability. 76 Okla. St. § 50.4
Most equine facilities utilize written liability releases but will these releases achieve complete protection? Well, it depends. In a 2012 Oklahoma case, Brown v. Beets, a trial court dismissed a personal injury negligence claim related to an injury from a horse kick because the riding participant had signed a liability release. However, on appeal, Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court decision. The appeals court found a dispute as to whether or not the trail ride leader had used reasonable effort to determine the ability of the riders and whether of not the trial ride leader had followed industry standards. 2012 OK CIV APP 62 This case would seem to imply that that if an equine professional fails to determine the ability of the potential rider/participant, fails to match to the right horse based on the rider/participant’s ability, and fails to adhere to industry standards, a liability release may not be effective in limiting liability.
Also, because a liability release or waiver is a contract, principles of contract law apply. Liability releases should be clear and definite. We also know that Oklahoma law requires the liability release to be in writing, and of course, a minor cannot sign a liability release form. A parent, ideally both parents, or guardian(s) must sign a liability release when a minor engages in an equine activity.
The take-a-way here is a liability release or waiver may not completely release you from liability if you are otherwise negligent or fail to follow industry standards. Liability releases could also prove to be ineffective for other reasons for example lack of specificity or clarity. It is not a good practice to use a liability release you picked up from someone else or found on-line unless you’ve had it reviewed by an attorney familiar with Oklahoma law. This blog post does not constitute legal advice, and any one with specific questions regarding liability releases or waivers should seek the advice of an attorney.