Virginia has an excellent statute specifically limiting a landowner’s liability if a person engaging in equine activities is injured on the landowner’s property.
Until the 1990s, the Virginia Supreme Court relied on case law going back to 1886 to negate the validity of pre-signed releases of landowner liability in cases of injury while on their property. The courts held that pre-release ran against public policy, and the landowner could be sued for damages.
In the early 1990s, the Virginia equine community saw the need for a statute that would enforce signed pre-injury releases, for injuries related to the many equine activities — steeplechase racing, foxhunting, horse shows, and trail rides –for which Virginia was famous. It was clear that without liability protection for landowners in an increasingly litigious environment, such sporting activities would soon disappear.
Virginia’s original Equine Activity Liability Act was passed in 1991. Though it has been slightly revised every few years, properly drafted pre-signed liability releases have been upheld in court cases, and the statute remains a model for other states.
The Act protects landowners and equine activity sponsors and sets out the many potential dangers with horses such as kicking and shying for the person signing the release to acknowledge. Most landowners and equine activity sponsors require participants to sign a release. Participants who sign the release need to know they are giving up their right to sue if they are injured. Thus, sponsors and landowners can feel confident in hosting equine activities. By shielding the landowner from liability, the Equine Activity Liability Act has allowed traditional horse sports to continue in Virginia.