Friday, May 1, 2015

The 30th National Conference on Equine Law

Spring in Kentucky is full of promise: new foals frolic on the bluegrass, the eventing season kicks off with the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, and Kentucky Derby hopefuls prepare to make their mark on Thoroughbred racing. Amidst this activity a group of lawyers and horse people gather for the National Conference on Equine Law. Hosted by the University of Kentucky at Keeneland Racetrack, this event brings people from all over the United States - and even some international participants!

2015 was my first year at the conference. I looked at the conference agenda and read the speaker bios. I had signed up to receive the conference materials electronically, so I downloaded them onto my iPad (I confess I didn't read them beforehand). I got to Keeneland Wednesday morning to watch morning workouts - something I HIGHLY recommend if you're in Lexington! - and took my seat in the Keeneland Sales Pavilion, settling in with my iPad, legal pad and pen. The next two days were a fantastic succession of talks by brilliant speakers, all of whom are passionate about their work with the equine industry. I want to share a few of my favorite topics.

The first day started with a case law update by Frank Becker, who teaches Equine Law at the University of Kentucky College of Law and has his own equine law practice in Lexington. He discussed several cases from the past year. The cases addressed sale and ownership of horses, security interests and liens, racing, personal injury, and more. He provided a summary of each case in the conference materials and discussed what some of the case holdings mean for equine law moving forward.

One of the panels I found particularly interesting was on medication and testing. For this, attendees heard from Susan Speckert (Kentucky Horse Racing Commission), Rick Goodell (New York State Gaming Commission), and Alan Foreman (private practice). We heard about the uniform medication program, laboratory accreditation, and out-of-competition testing. As I've written in an article coming out in the Journal of Animal & Natural Resources Law, one of the challenges in racing is the lack of uniform medication regulations. The speakers at this panel discussed how the states are addressing this by implementing the uniform medication program, and by using accredited laboratories for testing. There are fewer accredited labs, which means that if racetracks want to send samples to an accredited lab, they are more likely to be using the same lab as other racetracks. This consolidation of laboratories is achieving uniformity in medication testing.

Dean Dorton Allen Ford sponsored a cocktail and networking reception on the evening of the first day. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet and talk to other conference attendees.

Day 2 began with a legislative update provided by Jay Hickey of the American Horse Council. He shared what legislation has already been introduced for the upcoming legislative session, and what legislation is anticipated. Some interesting, possibly lesser-known pieces involve immigration reform to protect undocumented illegal workers - a crucial part of the horse industry in some areas - and the Equestrian Safety Helmet Act. The helmet act does not mandate wearing helmets, but would set national safety standards for all helmet manufacturers. Finally, Mr. Hickey discussed AHC's marketing alliance: Time to Ride. This is an attempt to attract newcomers to the horse industry. I think it would be an excellent idea for college riding programs to create interest and connection with the community, and to introduce students to the wonderful world of horses.

Julie Fershtman presented on one of the hot topics in equine law: Equine Activity Liability Acts. This is an area of concern for all horse owners and professionals. She talked about some of the recurring issues, including whether the plaintiff in a case qualifies as a "participant" (the definition varies by state) and whether the defendant is protected under the applicable statute. She also spent some time talking about the various exceptions to immunity under the statute, all of which can be found in your state's statute. The last part of her talk was about liability waivers and releases. She noted that while courts aren't all in agreement, the majority will uphold releases of liability.

In the afternoon on the second day, Matthew Williams (Wyatt Tarrant & Combs) gave an update on intellectual property issues. These issues can arise in decisions about jockey silks, horse names, farm names, and so on. For instance, the Ruffian case (Thoroughbred Legends, LLC., et al. v. The Walt Disney Co., et al.) was about the movie rights to the story of Ruffian, a famous racing filly. For the average horse enthusiast, intellectual property issues may not have much impact on their lives. However, show barns and businesses should be aware of any copyrights or trademarks they might be infringing upon when they design their logos.

The conference concluded with a discussion of the effective litigation strategies, presented by successful trial attorneys David Royse (Stoll Keenon Ogden), Craig Robertson (Wyatt Tarrant & Combs), Dorothy Burch (Ragsdale Liggett) and Ira Finkelstein (private practice). The speakers presented ten tips and told some war stories, and ended by reminding us all that the horse world is a small world.

One of the most important take-aways from this conference is that lawyers who practice equine law are generally themselves involved in the horse industry. Because they're involved in the industry, they understand the issues and parts of the horse industry that non-horse people don't always get. So - if you have a legal question related to your horses, contact an equine attorney. We speak your language!

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