by Gabriella Cellarosi Daniel, Esq.
Consider the scenario when a horse boarded with your barn begins to colic and the owner is traveling the globe with limited, if any, access to phone and email. With no owner to speak to, questions posed to the barn owner become – what vet to use? Is the horse a surgical candidate? Is there a cap on fees? Who will pay for fees? What care and treatment is authorized and who can authorize on behalf of the boarder?
A barn owner does not want to be in a position where there is a sick or injured horse, wondering whether to authorize “x” amount of vet care on behalf of the boarder. Who will get stuck with the vet bill post-care in the event that questions arise (or the boarder is untimely in satisfying payment)? The boarder could make the post-care claim that the wrong veterinary decisions were made with respect to the horse and subsequently the horse’s value and ability to perform is as a result, decreased.
With vacation plans upon us and boarders traveling near and far to take time off to unwind, the importance of having a clear and up-to-date emergency contact and information sheet is important. If unexpected illness or injury occurs to a horse, a well written emergency information and contact sheet can provide some clarity as to the barn owner’s wishes for their horse. It also helps protect the barn owner if an after-the-fact dispute arises about the nature and extent of the care provided to the horse and supplement the boarding agreements in place.
Consider the following five pieces of information that should be on an emergency contact and information sheet:
1. The Basics
The emergency contact and information sheet should have pertinent details on the horse (e.g. name, breed, color, age, etc.), preferred vet (it may be beneficial to note that the farm vet will be used if boarder’s preferred vet cannot be reached and/or is unavailable), and identify emergency contacts if the boarder cannot be reached. While emergency contacts do not need to be “horse” people, they should:
– know that they have been designated as an emergency contact;
– understand the owner’s wishes or instructions relative to the horse, including, but not limited to from a surgical perspective; and
– be authorized and prepared to make decisions on behalf of the owner when the owner is unreachable.
Consider adding express language in the emergency contact and information sheet that the horse owner authorizes emergency contacts to make emergency decisions on behalf of the owner if the owner cannot be reached with regard to the health, well-being, and/or medical treatment of the horse. Also, consider requiring boarders to agree to update the barn owner as to any change of addresses, emergency telephone numbers, itineraries, or other information needed to contact owner in the event of an emergency.
There are several potential steps that may help avoid after-the-fact payment disputes. For example, requiring a boarder to have a credit card on file with their preferred vet. A fee cap may also be beneficial because it sets out in writing what the owner is willing to pay for medical care for the horse. Keep in mind that depending on the facts and circumstances, fee caps can potentially cause confusion because veterinary fees for any animal cannot always be precisely determined.
For example, when a horse sustains a serious injury, a quote for the care is provided, and then amidst surgery, the attending veterinarian advises of complications and therefore, additional care and treatment is required. While likely included in any boarding contract, consider having express language in the emergency contact and information sheet that designates the party responsible (likely the owner) for the costs connected with care and treatment of the horse, the party to be billed directly, and that all costs will be paid promptly. A well written emergency contact and information sheet should be considered a supplement to other boarding agreements and documents. The best way to avoid confusion and achieve clarity as boarder’s wishes and instructions in the event of an emergency is to have agreements in place.
3. Is the Horse a Surgical Candidate?
In order to avoid any confusion, require boarders to designate whether their horse is a surgical candidate and more specifically, whether their horse is a colic surgery candidate. In the latter and more specific case, surgeries can range from approximately $8,000-12,000 and require additional post-surgery costs depending on the nature/extent of the surgery and potential post-surgery complications. Further, as with any surgery, there is no certainty as to outcome, whether the horse will survive, and whether it will return to its pre-surgery state and ability to perform. Finally, surgery can be stressful for both horse and owner and this is personal choice – therefore, require the owner/boarder to assess how she/he wants to proceed if confronted with a surgical decision.
4. Humane Destruction of the Horse and Other
In the event of serious illness of injury, consider having language in the emergency contact or information sheet that speaks to humane destruction of the horse so that the horse does not needlessly suffer because the owner is unreachable or unavailable. Require permission to be granted for euthanasia for humane reasons if advised by the attending veterinarian in the case of serious illness or injury. It may also be beneficial to provide boarders an option to provide any other wishes and instructions regarding emergency care of their horse.
5. Insurance Information
Require boarders to identify whether the horse is insured, the name of the insurance carrier, the policy number, and the carrier’s address. For example, subject to the terms and conditions in the specific policy, policies may require notification of an incident even if fees are below the deductible. In the case of death, there can be very specific timing requirements.
Insurance policies likely have specific notification and timing requirements and may address state specific issues and/or laws. Be mindful that failure to meet these requirements may impact the processing of a claim.
A well written emergency contact sheet, utilized along side your other boarding contracts, can help your operation run more smoothly.