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Riding Safely

Legal Cases - January/February 2005

Claim risk for saddle fitters

LITIGATION against tack shops and saddle fitters could turn yet another sector of the equestrian insurance market into a minefield and hit small businesses with higher premiums.


One saddle fitter in Wales was on the brink of closure this autumn after a claim for negligence - which was thrown out after investigation by the saddler's insurers - and the ensuing 300% premium hike.  "Two years ago, a chap in his 60s turned up and wanted a saddle," says Graham Butt, a registered saddle fitter who runs Llwynon Saddlery with his wife, Lynn, in the

Brecon Beacons.  "I had a look at his horse's back.  He took it in the manege and made a real hash of getting on, smacking its back with his leg as he mounted.  The horse bucked and he fell off."  


A year later, the Butts were contacted by an insurance company, regarding a claim for negligence for not warning a customer that riding was dangerous.  "At first I thought it was a joke from a mate," continues Graham. "We went through the accident report forms and realised who it was. The chap claimed he wouldn't be able to ride again, but was seen hunting that Christmas.  Our insurer, SEIB/AXA, sent an investigator to look at everything we do at the saddlery and find out if the claim was fraudulent. The next thing we knew, the claim had been kicked out."


But when the Butts went to renew their public and employers' liability insurance, AXA, through SEIB, was reluctant to quote. When it did, the Butts' premium had increased from £2,500 to£8,000.

"It cost the insurers £3,500 to get the claim thrown out," says Lynn.  "We offered to pay that because it would still be cheaper than the higher premium, but we couldn't. In the end, we got a better quote, of £7,000, from NFU. We have to generate much more income to cover it, and it has hit us hard because we weren't prepared for the increase." Graham adds: "We look at our business differently now: charging for little jobs we might have done for free before. Riders must realise who is going to pay for all this when they claim - they have to take responsibility."


In another case with SEIB, a saddler fitted a saddle; it slipped, so the customer fell off and sued. The claimant eventually lost, but SEIB spent £20,000 defending it.


About 25 insurers provide business cover for tack shops, in contrast to the handful of insurers who still provide horse insurance. But some do not cover "work away" situations; that is, liability for work off the premises, such as saddle-fitting.


David Snowdon, insurance broker to the Society of Master Saddlers (UK) Ltd and a past master of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, says it has grown harder to find cover over the past few years - especially for fitting at a client's yard.


Saddlers could be open to litigation if an owner decides a saddle hasn't been fitted correctly

"It's easy for the consumer to pick up a solicitor and run for it with a claim," he says. "The problem is the saddle maker, repairer or fitter is often a one-man band, without huge resources, but has to shoulder this considerable liability for what they do."


An SEIB spokesman says: "Saddlers could be open to litigation if an owner decides a saddle hasn't been fitted correctly and has damaged an animal. Plus there's the danger of someone seeking damages if a newly made or repaired piece of saddlery breaks and results in injury." 

Source:  Horse & Hound 6 January 2005


Pensioner fined in horse rage incident


A pensioner who carried out a road rage attack on two riders has been taken to court in what is thought to be the first prosecution of this kind in the UK, writes Lisa Bonne.


The Crown Prosecution Service decided that 75-year-old Eric Joseph James would face charges for driving without due care and consideration after he terrified two women as they rode along a lane in Gloucestershire.


Magistrates at the Forest of Dean court hearing the case were told how James, of Carolina Bungalow, Cliffords Mesne, drove his car too close to Kelly Salter, 23, and Edwina Hett, 38, forcing their horses into a bush. The animals reared and became skittish which put the riders in danger.  The court heard that James then drove within inches of the horses sounding his horn constantly before pulling over and blocking their path. He became very agitated and aggressive and ran towards the riders shaking his fists.


Giving evidence, Miss Hett said "He seemed to be having a psychotic outburst.  He was aggressive and very threatening." Miss Salter agreed and said "He was like a bomb waiting to explode. I was worried about the horses, which were obviously scared."


A police statement from James, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, was read out during the trial.  It said "They were riding two abreast.  When I was about 15 yards from them I sounded my horn once to warn them. Instead of moving over to single file, one of the girls moved closer to the other."  James said one of the riders swore at him as he drove by. The statement continued: "I then pulled over into a field and got out of the car and asked her what was wrong."


James claimed an argument arose between him and the riders, but magistrates found him guilty as charged. He was fined £250, given eight penalty points and ordered to pay costs.


Speaking afterwards, Miss Hett said "This is a warning to drivers; they cannot get away with it. It proves there is a point in reporting things to the police - action will be taken."

Source:  Horse & Hound 24 February 2005 

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