Shipping our horses commercially is becoming more and more commonplace. Today, we can shop for horses on-line in all parts of the country and the world, we send our horses to distant trainers, competitions and/or breeding facilities, and we have need to use commercial haulers to assist in getting our beloved four legged friends where they need to be! When you ship your horse through a commercial hauler, more than likely – either before or after your horse is loaded – you will be handed a piece of paper to sign. Frequently, this is an innocuous two sided, multiple carbon copy paperwork that looks like a receipt but with lots of fine print. Somewhere near the top or to the side it will say “Non Negotiable Bill of Lading” or “Bill of Lading.”
The following pointers should not scare you away from using commercial carriers to transport your horse or horses. By in large these companies do a great job shipping their equine cargo to all corners of the world. Still you need to know and understand what you sign when shipping your horse, and above all, make sure your horse and his travel is properly insured.
Here are some important pointers so you understand what you are signing.
1. The Bill of Lading is a binding contract. Even if it is signed by your trainer, farm manager, or working student, when those people are handing over your horse (or your client’s horse), they appear to be acting with your authority and are binding you to this agreement.
2. The Bill of Lading typically contains an agreed value provision whereby you agree the value of the horse being shipped does not exceed the price of the shipping – generally under $2,000.00. While there can be provisions for “declared values,” if the “declared value” is more than the “agreed value” the carrier will want more money for shipping the horse. Solution – insure your horse and don’t look to the carrier to compensate you if something happens to your animal.
3. The Bill of Lading may identify you or your agent as the “Shipper” and states you will load and unload the horse with the “Carrier” only being responsible for the actual transportation of the horse. Typically, the drivers will either load and unload or heavily assist in loading and unloading a horse. They generally, depending upon the vehicle being used, bring ramp guards and mats. This provision will also typically contain an indemnification clause where you agree to indemnify the carrier for damages caused by the horse, among other things. By this clause, you are agreeing that the carrier, its employees and agents are not responsible for any injury or damage to your horse. However, if your horse causes damage, you are taking full responsibility.
A) The driver forgets side rails and is leading your horse up a ramp into the van. The horse steps sideways off the ramp, spooks and strikes the driver with a front leg – you are liable for the driver’s injuries, regardless of his negligence.
B) The driver forgets to put a mat out over the gap between the ramp and the van. Your weanling is lead up the ramp, but his foot goes through the gap and he breaks his leg – you cannot sue the carrier for the driver’s negligence in not placing a mat over the gap.
C) The driver loads six horses but fails to secure one. That horse is loose and a few miles down the road injures itself and two other horses – you bear the responsibility for the damage to your horse and the others.
4. The Bill of Lading generally contains a release of liability, whereby you not only release the carrier from its acts of negligence, but frequently willful conduct. In this section of the Bill of Lading, you agree that you will not sue the carrier for any type of damages should your horse suffer an injury or cause another animal to be injured. This clause may also contain a limitation on liability – limiting same to the “Agreed Value” of $2,000.00 or less – which can be enforced even if other provisions are found inapplicable.
5. The Bill of lading may contain a statement that the carrier has provided you with a full copy of their “Policies, Terms and Conditions,” whether or not they actually have provided you these things.
6. The Bill of Lading will in all probability contain a notice regarding the making of claims, and inform you that claims must be made within as little as nine (9) months after delivery. This section will inform you that claims are governed pursuant to a federal law – 49 CFR 370. This part of the Code of Federal Regulations governs damage to property transported in interstate commerce by motor common carriers – your horse shipping company!
7. The Bill of lading will almost always contain an exclusive venue provision, meaning you agree that if you do sue the carrier, you will only do so in a certain court in a certain state. This can be burdensome, particularly if you reside in North Carolina and the venue is for state court in San Bernadino County, California. This section of the Bill of Lading may also contain provisions governing recovery of attorney fees, which may or may not be consistent with the laws of the state in which you reside.
*Amy Ganci is a lawyer from Dallas, Texas, whose commercial litigation practice has a heavy emphasis on equine cases. Amy represents some of our nation’s top trainers, breeders and owners of elite hunter/jumpers and Champion Quarter Horses across the United States. A horse lover from birth, Amy is a USDF Silver Medalist and regularly competes in dressage competitions. Learn more about Amy and her practice at www.gancilaw.com.