Owners' Liability on Trial in Britain

The legal responsibilities of being a racehorse owner in Britain have come to the fore in the wake of a multi-million dollar legal claim against the owners and trainer of a horse that severely injured an assistant trainer in a pre-race paddock incident at Wolverhampton Racecourse, England, in April 2005.
 
The case is due to reach court later this year and the potential repercussions have sent shock waves through Britain’s 16,000 registered Thoroughbred racehorse owners, prompting the Racehorse Owners’ Association to include, as of Jan. 1, 2008, third party liability insurance as a new benefit in its annual membership fee of £195 a year.
 
Chris Kinane, then assistant trainer to Ian Williams, was kicked in the head by the Ian Semple-trained Saameq in the Wolverhampton incident almost three years ago. He has since undergone more than 17 operations and will require extensive care for the rest of his life.
 
Kinane’s family has launched the lawsuit against Semple, majority shareholder David Irvine and fellow owner RB Racing Ltd, citing negligence on the part of the connections.

Irvine, 42, from Kilmarnock, Scotland, the owner of a small sub-contracting business, was not covered by insurance at the time of the incident. He faces financial ruin and has re-mortgaged his home to help meet legal fees, although he has encountered difficulty securing a lawyer.
 
"I have to find a solicitor in England to take it on as a 'no-win, no-fee' case," he explained. "But as soon as I mention legal aid I hit a brick wall. I haven’t got any money, so surely I should be able to get legal aid. The situation is dire, to be honest."
 
The pressure of the court action has prompted Scottish trainer Semple, who has insurance of up to US$2-million, to relinquish his British training’ license, although he currently has runners participating under his name at the Dubai International Racing Carnival.
 
ROA chief executive Michael Harris said: "The tragic accident of Chris Kinane has left many racehorse owners concerned about the risk of a claim, and potentially a multi-million pound claim, being brought against them by a third party for which they have no insurance protection or inadequate protection.
 
"The insurance applies to racehorses that are in full training, horses being prepared to go into training and horses which are out of training on a temporary basis.
 
"There is a requirement for racehorse trainers to have public liability insurance, but there is no mandatory requirement for that cover to extend to owners who may also be exposed to a claim when their horse is resting away from the training yard or is being kept at home."
 
The new insurance benefit in the ROA membership provides an indemnity up to a maximum of £10 million per individual claim and follows an agreement between the ROA, Newmarket insurance brokers Lycetts Hamilton, and the insurance company QBE Insurance (Europe) Limited.
 
The ROA has already seen a "significant" uplift in membership levels to over 7,500 following the introduction of this "key benefit" which sits alongside many other benefits.
 
The British Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association introduced similar third party liability on March 1 for broodmares and young stock, including foals, yearlings and 2-year-olds being prepared for sale. But it does not apply to horses who are directly under the care of their owners.
 
The plan covers horses in Britain, plus mares being bred, and stock offered for sale abroad in other European countries for a span of up to six months. To be eligible, mares must actively be used for breeding or fostering and will not qualify while resting from race training or when in training.

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