Though legal cases brought against farriers are relatively rare, I believe that they will become more prevalent in the near future. In the last ten years, lameness diagnostics have greatly improved, making it easier for veterinarians to conclusively identify the sources and causes of lameness. At the same time, horse owners have become much more aware of and knowledgeable about proper hoof care. This confluence of awareness, technology and information may very well lead more horse owners to point the finger at their farriers when their horses go lame.
In general, in order to have liability, a farrier would have to be proven negligent or to have engaged in willful misconduct. There are some generally accepted risks of having your horse receive farrier care, such as hooves that are a bit tender after a trim. However, the more extreme the consequences, the more likely it is that liability will follow. For example, a farrier who trimmed a horse so short that it developed laminitis would be likely to incur liability as a result of his or her negligence. Similarly,
a farrier who disciplines a misbehaving horse so severely that the horse injures itself may very well be liable for the cost of the horse's veterinary care. Less extreme scenarios might also lead to liability, such as changing the hoof angle too much in a single shoeing or using pads improperly.
What damages might be at stake in such situations? Although some farriers charge substantial sums for their work, most farriers make a relatively modest income, and the typical shoeing cost is often less than $100. However, the consequences of poor farrier work can be significant. Horse owners may have to spend thousands in corrective shoeing and vet care to repair the damage done by a single shoeing, and in the very worst cases, permanent and painful lameness may dictate that the horse be euthanized. Therefore, farriers would be well advised to seek liability insurance for their business to defend them against possible claims.