Equine Activity Statutes – Part 2: Inherent Risk of Equine Activity
This post is one piece of a 3-part series on Equine Activity Statutes. Make sure you’ve read Part 1 before continuing.
The next often litigated question in cases which invoke the equine activity statute is whether the injury was caused by an “inherent risk of equine activity”. Even when the defendant is considered an “equine sponsor/professional” and the injured party is a “participant”, if the injury was not caused by an “inherent risk of equine activity”, the equine activity statute will not apply, and the sponsor/professional is left unprotected.
An “inherent risk of equine activity” typically includes dangers or conditions which are an integral part of equine activities.
Inherent Risk of Equine Activity:
The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to a person on or around the equine
The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to sound, sudden movement, and unfamiliar object, a person, or another animal
Certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions
Collisions with other equines or objects
The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others.
In some cases, when the injured party demonstrates that the injury occurred because of the equine sponsor/professional’s negligence, rather than an inherent risk of equine activity, courts are not so quick to provide immunity to the equine sponsor/professional.
In one such case, a man was severely injured while participating in a guided trail ride. The stable’s employee who guided the ride was originally hired as a food server and had never led a trail ride before. According to the employee, however, she had “ridden horses all her life”. During the trail ride, the guide allowed another participant to run her horse on several occasions. And, on one such occasion, the man’s horse followed.
The man was unable to stop his horse, but when the other participant’s horse abruptly stopped so did the man’s horse, causing the man to fall off sideways on to his upper left chest. The following day, the man was sweaty and was in and out of consciousness, so he went to the hospital where he was found to have a ruptured spleen which needed removal. Shortly after the surgery, the man suffered a stroke and suffered from vision impairment.
In this case, the stable unsuccessfully argued that because a horse running and stopping abruptly is an inherent risk of equine activity, the stable should be afforded protection by the state’s equine activity statute. The court determined that because allowing a food server to guide the ride and allowing participants to run their horses during the ride could be considered negligent, the stable was not granted protection by the equine activity statute and the case was allowed to proceed to trial. As many of these cases do, the matter ended with a pre-trial settlement agreement.
In other cases, courts have determined that a horse spooking from wildlife, a horse biting a participant, a horse spooking from a barking dog, a horse spooking from a loud sound of an opening gate, a horse spooking from a low flying helicopter, and a horse’s violent reaction to a bite from a fire ant to be “inherent risks of equine activity” which warranted dismissal of the case.
Alternatively, instances where courts have found that the injury was not necessarily caused by an inherent risk include:
when an instructor had a rider carry a crop and instructed the rider to use it on the neck of the horse
when an instructor was present as a rider struggled to mount and ultimately fell and was injured
when an instructor unhooked the horse’s lead shortly before the horse bolted
when a horse pulled back from a hitching post when the rider attempted to untie him, injuring the rider’s hand
when an instructor allowed a rider to ride with uneven stirrups
when an instructor failed to properly educate a rider on how to handle the horse when the horse stumbled, fell, and rolled on top of the rider
In these cases, the equine activity sponsor/professionals were not automatically granted immunity under the equine activity statute and the cases were allowed to proceed to trial.
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