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Does An Equine Activity Liability Act Apply? Take Our Test

State equine activity liability laws generally, but not always, apply to equine activity "participants" who are “engaged in an equine activity” at the time of injury. Over the years, cases have addressed whether people injured on the grounds of an equine activity qualify as “participants.” Let’s take a look at two noteworthy cases addressing the issue and find out whether you agree with the courts.

Case 1:

The plaintiff and her husband attended a horse auction.  Her husband had a bid card, but she did not. She left her seat to use the restroom but upon her return was accidentally struck and injured by a shying team of draft horses in the corridor.  Did the Iowa Equine Activity Liability Act apply to her case?

The Ruling: No – the Law Does Not Apply

Iowa’s statute applies to "a participant" who was "engaged in a domestic animal activity," but an Iowa Federal Court held that plaintiff's participation was more in the nature of a spectator than a "participant" because she merely purchased a seat at the auction. The court found that her husband, by comparison, would have qualified as a "participant" at the auction because he attended with an interest in making a purchase there.

[The case was Duban v. Waverly Sales Co., 2013 WL 684187 (N.D. Iowa 2/25/2013), construing Iowa’s Domesticated Animal Activity Liability Act, Iowa Code chapter 673.1.]

Case 2:

The plaintiff was a horse groom and barn manager who was visiting her father at a stable.  While someone at the stable [the defendant] was unloading a horse from a trailer, the horse spooked, knocked the defendant to the ground, and kicked the plaintiff in the head when she approached the area. Her lawsuit claimed, among other things, that the defendant negligently tried to handle an untrained and unbroken horse. Was she a "participant" such that Ohio's equine liability act applied to her?

The Ruling:  Yes – the Law Applies

Courts disagreed as the case worked its way up the appellate stages.  The trial court held that the plaintiff was a “participant,” for whom the law applies, because Ohio’s law included “spectator” status within its definition of “participant,” and evidence showed that the plaintiff was present and “'noticed' the defendant unloading the horse” from the trailer. Accordingly, the trial court dismissed the case because it was barred by that state's Equine Activity Liability Act.  An Ohio appellate court reversed, finding that plaintiff was not a “participant” since she was not necessarily watching or assisting the defendant when the incident occurred.

Ultimately, the Ohio Supreme Court had the final word and generally agreed with the trial court.  It held that “one who purposely places himself or herself in a location where equine activities are occurring and who sees such an activity is a ‘spectator’ and hence an ‘equine activity participant’ within the meaning of [the Ohio equine activities immunity statute].” The court recognized that Ohio’s law offered no definition of “spectator” but applied a “common” meaning and dictionary definitions. Applying a somewhat broad definition of “spectator,” the court reasoned that “given the purpose of the statute, we conclude that a person must deliberately put himself or herself in a position of exposure to the ‘inherent risk’ of proximity to horses before immunity can apply.” Under this interpretation, the plaintiff qualified as a “spectator” and, therefore, a “participant” under the law, and the Equine Activity Liability Act barred her lawsuit.

[The case was Smith v. Landfair,  984 N.E.2d 1016 (Ohio 2012), construing Ohio's equine activities immunity statute, O.R.C. § 2305.321.] 

Categories: Liability

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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 and, and

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Julie Fershtman, author of our popular and prolific Equine Law Blog, was interviewed by the State Bar of Michigan. The interview, which called Fershtman "Lawyer-Blogger," discussed our Equine Law Blog. We truly believe that this blog is the nation's most active blog serving the equine industry on equine law topics, and we thank you for visiting it. Read more here.

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 

What our Equine Law Services can Provide

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. 


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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