In light of the recent fires, many stable owners found themselves wondering who was responsible for evacuating the horses on their property; the stable owner or the horse owner? The legal principal of bailment determines the stable owner's duty to the horse owner. Under California law, a bailment is a contractual relationship and is created when one person delivers his/her personal property into the possession of another. A person becomes a bailee for hire when he/she accepts property into his/her care, custody and control for compensation. This is also referred to as a mutual benefit bailment. California legislation currently terms a bailment as a depository. A boarding facility is also categorized as a depository for animals. When boarding horses, the bailor (horse owner) delivers possession of the horse to the bailee (boarding facility). Remember, possession does not equal ownership. Under California's Civil Code, upon delivery, the bailee has a duty to provide the animal with necessary and prompt veterinary care, nutrition, and shelter, and treat them kindly. Where the property is damaged, lost or stolen while in the bailee's possession, the bailee may be held liable for negligence to the bailor. In other words, if a stable takes possession of a horse and does not return the horse in the same condition, the stable is presumed to be negligent and has the burden to prove they were not responsible in the loss or damage to the horse. A boarding facility must utilize a reasonable standard of care for the animals in its care, custody and control and that standard is not removed simply because of an emergency. The duty of a boarding facility to evacuate a horse(s) in its care would be a triable issue of fact and would depend on the particular facts of a situation. An important consideration is whether it is reasonable for the horse owner to assume the horse would be evacuated. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario where the horse owner assumed the facility would handle the evacuation in the event of an emergency and the facility assumed the horse owner would evacuate the horse. All the while, the horse is left behind. Common sense would dictate that if the fire was started due to the boarding facilities negligence then they should do all they can to evacuate the horses and minimize their responsibility for property loss. In the situation of a wildfire, (that was not caused by the boarding facilities negligence) the boarding facility is still under the same duty to keep the horses safe. A strong argument could be made that the boarding facility may have a reasonable duty to evacuate the horses from harms way if possible. The best way to avoid confusion as to who will be responsible for the loss or damage of a horse in the course of a fire or natural disaster (that was not caused by boarding facilities negligence) is to incorporate an additional paragraph in the boarding agreement that states the boarding facility either will or will not attempt evacuation of the horse(s) in its care and that the horse owner releases them from all liability associated with such rescue or acknowledged non-rescue. In addition to this, the boarding facility should have the necessary insurance coverage in place including care, custody and control coverage to minimize its liability exposure. Copyright 2009. Legal Equestrian, a Professional Law Corporation All rights reserved.