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California Appellate Court Dismisses Wrongful Death Lawsuit After Farrier Dies While Shoeing Horse

A California farrier (horseshoer) with 45 years of experience was hired to trim a horse’s hooves. While working in an outdoor corral, the horse knocked him down, and his head hit a rock. He died from his injuries, and his estate sued the horse owner who also owned the property. The trial court dismissed the case, and the California Court of Appeals agreed.

Why did the case fail?

In its lawsuit, the farrier’s estate claimed that the horse owner negligently failed to secure and restrain other horses that were in the corral where the farrier was working, failed to remove rocks from the corral, failed to warn that the corral was rocky, and failed to warn that the horse had a “volatile disposition and temperament.” The horse owner, defending against the lawsuit, argued that California law of primary assumption of risk barred the case because horse shoeing was an “inherently dangerous” animal-related activity, and the farrier was an independent contractor who had no recourse under California law.

Affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the case, the California Court of Appeals found that the legal doctrine of “primary assumption of the risk” applied in a variety of occupational settings, including veterinarians, but California apparently had no precedent involving farriers hurt on the job. It noted that the assumption of risk doctrine encompasses "any physical activity that involves an element of risk or danger as an integral part of the activity." Accordingly, the court extended “assumption of risk” to the farrier, reasoning that “the job of a farrier is an inherently dangerous occupation as much, or more so, than that of a veterinarian.”

The estate also argued that the horse owner was liable for failing to secure or restrain horses for the farrier or help him do his job, but the court disagreed. It found that securing the horses was an essential part of the farrier’s job, and the horse owner had no duty to secure the horses once he relinquished care and control to the farrier.

Finally, the estate argued that the horse owner should be liable because the presence of rocks in the corral posed a hazard to the farrier. Dismissing this, the court explained that the rocks, to the extent that they were dangerous, were obvious, and California law prevented recovery “where the danger was obvious.” It found that the farrier could assess the risks and the safety of working with horses in that environment.

For more information on farriers and the law, please see our earlier post on farrier malpractice.

The case was Barrett v. Leech, 2014 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5185, 2014 WL 3659366 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. July 24, 2014), an unpublished case.

Categories: Lawsuit, 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 www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.

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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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