Q: I would like my young daughter to learn to ride at a British Horse Society-approved riding school. I have spoken to a number of establishments in my area and have been told by most of them that, because of the insurance requirements, my daughter will not be able to start lessons until she is four years old. However, one said that if I signed a disclaimer on my daughter’s behalf, she could ride with them on the basis she would not be insured. But, until she reaches the age of four, where do I stand if anything goes wrong?
“THE physical demands and concentration levels involved in riding mean the risk of injury in very young children is perceived to be higher,” explains Stuart Farr of Laytons Solicitors.
“Hence the reason why insurers and riding schools commonly adopt the four-year-old threshold.”
According to Stuart, riding schools are now exposed to a plethora of laws that impose various duties, responsibilities and obligations on them.
“A disclaimer would protect the riding school from the risk of an uninsured claim should something go wrong,” he says.
“The problem with disclaimers is that they will often offend the provisions of the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 which make it unlawful for a person to exclude or restrict his or her liability for death or personal injury resulting from negligence.
“Even if a person signs such a disclaimer it will not be taken to assume there has been a voluntary acceptance of risk. Also, it will not necessarily absolve a riding school of its obligations under safety and welfare legislation and it is unlikely that a court scrutinising such a disclaimer would allow this.
“Consequently, it is not a straightforward matter for a riding school to absolve itself of responsibility in these circumstances and therefore, if it remains happy to teach your child, it will be necessary for each of you to prevent the risks of injury arising in the first place,” explains Stuart.
Jeremy Lawton from Shearwater Insurance adds: “It does not mean you would not have a valid claim against the school if it proved to be in any way negligent. The cost of its defence and/or compensation payments would be wholly its responsibility, which is why many schools will not teach younger children.”
Laytons Solicitors Tel: 0161 834 2100 www.laytons.com
Shearwater Insurance Tel: 08700 767666 www.shearwater-insurance.co.uk
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This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (28 February, ’08)