Legal Considerations for Horse Business with Jo Belasco
Legal Considerations for Horse Business with Jo Belasco
DISCLAIMER – All the information given to us in this podcast is educational only. It is not meant to be considered legal advice.
Jo Belasco is an attorney who specializes in equine law. She sat down with us on the podcast and talked about legally protecting our businesses. We learned a LOT, and we know you will too.
Jo never intended to be an equine lawyer. She wanted to be a prosecutor, but the DA’s office was under a hiring freeze when she graduated from law school. She wound up as an attorney for the Boston Police, where she prosecuted officers after internal affairs hearings.
A few years in, she decided to open her own practice, and as a lifelong horse person, she realized she had a unique set of skills that she could use to serve the horse industry. An average lawyer wouldn’t know the importance of including a PPE in a horse sales contract or understand the nuances of a horse facility’s liability, but Jo does.
Choosing The Right Business Structure
Most equine businesses as best structured as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). A limited liability corporation offers some projection to the business owner. If one of your clients gets hurt and sues you, it could financially destroy you.
Forming an LLC puts the liability on your business instead of you personally. This means that someone can come after your business assets and money, but your personal financials are safe.
Of course, you still need to take measures to protect your business because, ideally, you won’t have to sell any assets, but it’s always better to take a hit to your business than your personal life.
Now, the one big caveat to this is that you must have separated assets from your personal life and business: separate bank account and areas of your property. You must make it clear that you are a real business. If you don’t, your LLC may not protect you from a judgment.
Different types of corporations may give you a tax advantage, but the extreme liability we expose ourselves to in the horse world makes an LLC the best choice nine times out of ten.
When Should You Trademark Your Business?
Typically people trademark their business name, but you can also trademark a color, sound, logo, and more. Once you know that you are set on using your name or logo permanently, it’s a good idea to apply for a Trademark.
If you haven’t applied yet and are using your name, you should go ahead and have a lawyer help you get started. The way Trademark works in the US is whoever has used it first has the right to use it. There might be someone else who has filed for your Trademark ahead of you, but if you can show that you were using the Trademark, first, you still may be entitled to it.
The sooner you get your trademark application in, the better protection you have. Once you have your Trademark, you can send a cease and desist letter to get anything using your name removed.
It’s a good idea to have a search done before you name your business or decide what you want your Trademark to be. This way, you don’t have to change everything later if the Trademark isn’t available.
Should you Trademark Your Business Name or Tagline Or Both?
You want to trademark anything you are using in commerce. If you have a name filed with the state, but you use something else to promote your brand, you don’t need to file for a trademark for your official legal name, just the one you use to promote.
But, if you have a business and a personal brand, for example, April’s business is Make it Rein, and she is known as the Tech Savvy Equestrian, she will need to Trademark both of those terms.
The last thing you want is someone taking over your business name, personal brand, or tagline.
The Most Common Legal Mistake Horse Business Owners Make
The biggest issue Jo sees in horse businesses from a legal standpoint is not having a lawyer look over their contracts and liability waivers. Repurposing your friend’s contract or buying a cookie-cutter one off the internet may save you money in the short term, but it can be devastating in the long run.
Unless you have a lawyer licensed in your state of business looking over your contract, you have no way of knowing if it gives you the liability coverage you need. The last thing you want to do is have an accident and find out your contract won’t cover you once you are already facing a judgment.
The second issue Jo often sees with horse business owners is they don’t understand what their contract does and does not do. A well-written contract provides protection, but it does not prevent a lawsuit from being filed. Anyone who has an accident on your property can sue you.
You have to provide the liability form that that person signed at the summary judgment motion to show they don’t have a case against you. A well-drafted contract can get the judgment thrown out rather than going through a whole trial process.
Most people don’t realize the value of their liability waiver. That piece of paper can prevent an entire lawsuit.
Your Friends and Family Must Sign Your Contract Too!
Often, people think they don’t need to worry about their liability because their clients are also longtime friends or family members in their community. This is a dangerous mindset to have.
Even if your friend or family member has no intention of suing you, their health insurance company can come after you because they don’t want to pay any more money than they have to.
Also, you may be great friends with Susie. But if Susie has a serious accident and is in a coma, Susie’s husband may not have the money to pay for this, and he may not have a choice. Accidents are high-stress situations, and they can create things happening that you would think would never happen.
Accidents happen in the horse world. They are a fact of our reality. Having a strong contract, a liability insurance policy and a properly structured business are the best way to take care of everyone when the unthinkable happens.
Liability When Teaching Online
Your liability when you are online is different than when you are teaching someone in person. You can’t control the environment, and you can’t see the horse in real-time and help your client respond to their emotions.
If you are giving virtual lessons, it’s best to have a separate release that states that you cannot see what’s going on around the horse and rider.
It’s just like online fitness videos and other coaching. At the beginning, we all see the disclaimers telling the participant that they are responsible for taking care of their own safety and making decisions that fit their situation.
If you have any questions for Jo, reach out to her! She is more than happy to help make sure you have the proper legal protections in place for your horse business. If she isn’t licensed in your state, she’ll help you find someone who is.
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