Can Injured Trainers Sue Horse Owners?
Horse trainers, it might seem, should expect the risk of being thrown or injured by the horses they train. Over the years, however, injured trainers have sued their clients, and sometimes they win. As explained below, trainers are more likely to win if they can prove that the owner or stable knew that the horse had unusually dangerous tendencies but failed to warn them. Trainers are more likely to lose if the risk at issue was an “inherent risk” or an “assumed risk.”
Cases Involving Equine Activity Liability Laws
As of September 2011, 46 states (all but California, Maryland, Nevada, and New York) have passed some form of equine activity liability law. All of the laws differ, but many share common characteristics. Most of these laws state that an equine professional, equine activity sponsor or “another person” should not be liable if someone is injured as a result of an “inherent risk of equine activity.” The laws typically include exceptions that could allow certain kinds of lawsuits to proceed.
Both before and after the passage of these laws, some professional horse trainers have filed lawsuits after being injured on the job. A brief discussion of the cases follows.
The Trainer Loses
In a Georgia case, a trainer sued the horse’s owner after being kicked while preparing a horse for a show. The case was dismissed based on that state’s Equine Activity Liability Act. The appellate court agreed and found that the law protected the owner from suit because the trainer qualified as a “participant in an equine activity” to whom the law applied.
In a Louisiana case, an exercise rider at a track was injured and sued. The court likewise held that the case should be dismissed based on that state’s Equine Activity Liability Act.
The Trainer Wins
A case from Massachusetts involved a trainer who took a test ride to evaluate a horse for potential purchase, but the horse threw him. Throughout the case, a dispute existed as to whether the horse’s owners warned that the horse was temperamental and disliked being ridden in a certain direction. The trainer did not necessarily win the case outright, but because of discrepancies in the facts, the court ruled that a jury needed to decide whether the horse owners satisfied a requirement in the Massachusetts Equine Activity Liability Act to “make reasonable and prudent efforts” to determine the trainer’s ability to safely handle the horse.
No Equine Activity Liability Law
New York’s highest court affirmed dismissal of a case filed by legendary jockey Ron Turcotte (known for riding “Secretariat” to his triple crown victory). During a race at Belmont Park several years ago, Mr. Turcotte fell and was rendered a paraplegic. He sued several people, including a jockey who allegedly caused the accident and the owner of the horse that that jockey rode. In dismissing the case, the court stated in part that “professional sporting contests ... by their nature involve an elevated degree of danger. If a participant makes an informed estimate of the risks involved in the activity and willingly undertakes them, then there can be no liability if he is injured as a result of those risks.”
In a case from Indiana years ago, a trainer worked a horse on a longe line when the horse allegedly attacked him. He sued the horse’s owner. The court dismissed the case, however, based on the principle that the trainer had “assumed the risk” of being injured.
In a New York case, an experienced horse trainer volunteered to help another trainer load a colt into a trailer but was injured when the horse kicked her. She sued the horse farm claiming that it was negligent for, among other things, failing to warn her of the colt’s dangerous propensities and for improperly administering a tranquilizer to the horse before the incident. Ruling that the case should be permitted to proceed to trial, the court noted that the trainer did not “assume the risk” of being kicked under the circumstances.
In a case from Minnesota, a farrier was kicked while trimming a horse. His suit claimed that the owner knew, but never warned, that the horse was a “kicker.” The court held that the farrier deserved her day in court so that a jury could decide if the owner, by not warning of the horse’s history, created an unusually hazardous situation that put the farrier in danger.
If you would like more detail on the above cases or have any questions, please give me a call or send me an email using the form below.
Julie Fershtman is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, three books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 29 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance. For more information, please also visit www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.View All Posts by Author ›
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Julie Fershtman’s Recent and Upcoming Equine Law Speaking Engagements Include:
National Conference on Equine Law in Louisville, Kentucky on April 29, 2020. Topic will be on Waivers/Releases of Liability Involving Minor Participants.
U.S. Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado on December 10, 2019. Topic will be on Equine Liability.
IRMI Emmett J. Vaughan Agribusiness Conference (“AgriCon”) in Sacramento, CA (April 2019), and Richmond, VA (June 2019) and in Des Moines, IA (September 2019), on topics of “Equine Activity Liability Acts” and “Equine Mortality Insurance Disputes.”
National Conference on Equine Law in May 2019 in Lexington, KY, on the topic of “Equine Activity Liability Act Updates” and liabilities involving hosting of equine clinics.
Agricultural Claims Conference in Kansas City, MO, in March 2019 on topics of “Loose Livestock Liabilities.”
2018 American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, on “Equine Mortality Coverage and Disputes.”
November 2018, American Horse Council webinar on “Equine Liability.”
Honors & Recognitions
Equine lawyer, Julie Fershtman, has received these prestigious equine industry awards from respected equine organizations:
"Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award" - American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Law Section Animal Law Committee
"Distinguished Service Award" - American Youth Horse Council
"Industry Service Award" - Michigan Equine Partnership
"Catalyst Award"- Michigan Horse Council
"Outstanding Achievement Award" - American Riding Instructors Association
"Partner in Safety Award" - American Riding Instructors Association
"Associate Service Award" - United Professional Horseman's Association
"National Partnership in Safety" Award" - Certified Horsemanship Association
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Handling breach of contract, fraud/ misrepresentation, commercial code, and other claims involving equine-related transactions including purchases/sales, leases, mare leases/foal transfers, and partnerships.
Litigating disputes in court or through alternative dispute resolution (arbitration, mediation, facilitation).
Defending equine/farm/equestrian industry professionals, businesses, and associations in personal injury claims and lawsuits.
Drafting and negotiating contracts for boarding, training, sales, waivers/releases, leases, and numerous other equine-related transactions.
Representing and advising insurers on coverage and policy language as well as litigation;
Advising equine industry clubs and associations regarding management, rules, bylaws, disputes, and regulations.
Representing some of the equine industry's top trainers, competitors, stables, and associations.
Counseling industry professionals, stable managers, and individual horse owners.
THE NATION'S MOST SOUGHT-AFTER EQUINE LAW SPEAKER
Did you know Julie Fershtman has spoken at the American Horse Council Annual Meeting, Equine Affaire, Midwest Horse Fair, Equitana USA, US Dressage Federation Annual Meeting, North American Riding for the Handicapped (now PATH International) Annual Meeting, American Morgan Horse Association Annual Meeting, American Paint Horse Association Annual Meeting, US Pony Clubs, Inc.'s Annual Meeting, All-American Quarter Horse Congress, American Youth Horse Council Annual Meeting, American Riding Instructors Association Annual Meeting, CHA Annual Meeting, and numerous others? Consider signing her up for your convention. Contact Julie.
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