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Winning Jockey Lost His Own Legal Battle

Ron Turcotte rose to fame after winning Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown riding the legendary “Secretariat.”  He lost his own legal battle in New York after being seriously injured in a horse race, mainly because of New York’s doctrine of “assumption of risk.”  Assumption of risk is a legal defense based on the theory that horse racing is an inherently dangerous sport and profession­al jockeys or drivers are best situated to know and appreciate the risks involved in the sport.

In the Turcotte case, Ron Turcotte was rendered a paraplegic after 17 years of professional horse racing after falling from a horse at Belmont Park during a race.  He sued several parties, including a jockey whose horse allegedly clipped the horse Turcotte rode causing it to fall and the owner of the horse ridden by that jockey.  Affirming summary judgment for the defendants, however, New York's highest court held that the defendants did not owe Turcotte a duty of care.  It stated in part:

[W]hile the determination of the existence of a duty and the concomitant scope of that duty involve a consideration not only of the wrongfulness of the defendant's action or inaction, they also necessitate an examina­tion of plaintiff's reasonable expectations of the care owed him by others.  This is particularly true in professional sporting contests, which 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.

Traditionally, the participant's conduct was conveniently analyzed in terms of the defensive doctrine of assumption of risk.  With the enact­ment of the comparative negligence statute, however, assumption of risk is no longer an absolute defense [citation omitted].  Thus, it has become necessary, and quite proper, when measuring a defendant's duty to a plaintiff to consider the risks assumed by the plaintiff.  .  .  . Accordingly, the analysis of care owed to plaintiff in the professional sporting event by a co-participant .  .  . must be evaluated by considering the risks plaintiff assumed when he elected to participate in the event and how those assumed risks qualified defendants' duty to him.

Dismissal was also affirmed because Turcotte’s testimony acknowledging risks inherent in racing supported an "express assumption of risk" on his part.

The Case was:  Turcotte v. Fell, 68 N.Y.2d 432; 510 N.Y.S.2d 49; 502 N.E.2d 964 (N.Y. 1986).  Find it here.

Every legal matter is different.  Legal disputes can vary depending on the facts and the applicable law.  Seek knowledgeable legal assistance for your matters.

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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Our Equine law blog (and its author) in the news!

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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