{ Banner Image }

Stable Liability: How Expert Witnesses Can Make or Break an Equine Lawsuit

In equine-related lawsuits, parties often hire expert witnesses to testify at trial. Experts are sometimes called upon to testify about a party's compliance (or lack of compliance) with a standard of care. The role of an expert witness is to assist the judge and jury in understanding key issues in a case. For example, an expert can be asked to testify if the equipment used by a riding instructor was properly selected for the horse and rider.

For trial lawyers handling Equine Law cases, among the most difficult tasks is selecting the right expert witness for a case. In a well-known equine case from Minnesota, the Court refused to allow a party's proposed equine expert witness to testify. The Minnesota Supreme Court ultimately upheld that judge's ruling and affirmed the striking of that expert from testifying.

In that case, the plaintiff boarded his horse, a great-grandson of Secretariat, at the defendant's stable and planned to train the horse for dressage. While at the boarding stable, the horse became lame. The plaintiff sued the stable, claiming that its staff were too rough in trying to recapture the horse after it escaped from its pasture.

Proving Boarding Stable Liability

As with every case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof. Here, the plaintiff horse owner was required to prove (1) that the stable was negligent in the horse's care and (2) that the stable's negligence – and not some other reason – caused the boarded horse's lameness condition. The stable argued, among other things, that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiff failed to prove that the stable caused the lameness.

Enter the experts. In an effort to prove his case, the plaintiff produced an affidavit of his expert witness who was ready to prove that the stable's care caused the lameness. That proposed expert, however, had no veterinary training or licensure but, rather, had an M.S. degree in geology and a Ph.D. in biology/systematics and ecology (vertebrate paleontology). She also owned a horse with a similar lameness condition. Her affidavit concluded "to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the present lameness of [the horse] is traceable to an injury that occurred to the right forelimb [in November 1993]." She concluded that the incident at the stable was "the proximate cause [of the lameness and] the straw that breaks the camel's back." In opposition, the stable produced testimony for four equine veterinarians who believed that the stable's care did not cause the lameness condition.

At this stage, the lawsuit had not yet proceeded to trial. The central issue before the Court, argued by counsel for the parties, was whether the plaintiff sufficiently stated a case using the non-veterinary expert's testimony. These issues proceeded to the state court of appeals and then to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Whose Expert is Qualified?

The Minnesota Supreme Court noted that expert witness testimony would be essential to prove causation, especially if the issues were outside the realm of common knowledge. It stated:

Where a question involves obscure and abstruse medical factors such that the ordinary layman cannot reasonably possess well founded knowledge of the matter and could only indulge in speculation in making a finding, there must be expert testimony, based upon an adequate factual foundation that the thing alleged to have caused the result not only might have caused it but in fact did cause it.

The Court also noted that "[t]he ordinary layperson is not versed in horse lameness or horse anatomy and therefore could not decide whether the … accident caused [the horse's] current lameness. Expert testimony on causation was required before [the plaintiff] could recover damages …." Agreeing with the trial court, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff's expert was not qualified, and the case should be dismissed because the plaintiff offered no evidence that the boarding stable's actions caused the horse's injuries.

The case was: Gross v. Victoria Station Farms, 578 N.W.2d 757 (1998).

Conclusion

What may seem to be a simple, straightforward equine case can sometimes become complicated. Issues involving expert witnesses can be especially complicated. A knowledgeable equine law practitioner can try to simplify the issues and secure proper expert witness testimony to help the case (or defense) succeed.

Categories: Lawsuit

Photo of Julie I. Fershtman
Shareholder

is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. She has successfully tried equine cases before juries in four states. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, four 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 ›

Type the following characters: november, six, november, romeo, three, tango

* Indicates a required field.

Subscribe to RSS»
Get Updates By Email:

Contact Us - Julie Fershtman

"Julie Fershtman is considered by many to be the nation's leading expert on equine activity liability acts. Her 30-minute presentation for a recent educational webinar on equine activity liability acts for the American Horse Council is available for viewing. Please take a look, here's a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCROISSPMJs

Fershtman’s Equine Law Book Wins Fourth National Award

Julie Fershtman’s latest book, Equine Law and Horse Sense, won its fourth national award on May 31, 2021. It was selected to receive a "Finalist" Medal in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. 

The 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards are presented by Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, which is the largest International awards program for indie authors and independent publishers. Here’s a link for the complete list of 2021 winners and finalists: https://www.indiebookawards.com/winners.php?year=2021 

Fershtman’s Equine Law Book Receives Third National Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, published by the American Bar Association, has been selected to receive a 2020 NYC Big Book Award in the category of “Reference” books.

The NYC Big Book Awards draws nominations world-wide. This is the third award for Fershtman’s book since its publication last year. Here is a link for more information, and to see the list of winners: https://www.nycbigbookaward.com/2020winners

Information on the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164105493X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

Equine Blog Ranked in Feedspot

Foster Swift's Equine Law Blog was ranked #8 in Feedspot.com's "15 Best Equine Law Blogs and Websites".

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

In 2022, Julie Fershtman is scheduled to be a speaker on equine liability at these conventions:

Fershtman’s Equine Law Book Receives Second National Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, published by the American Bar Association, has been selected to receive a 2020 NYC Big Book Award in the category of “Reference” books.

The NYC Big Book Awards draws nominations world-wide. This is the third award for Fershtman’s book since its publication last year. Here is a link for more information, and to see the list of winners: https://www.nycbigbookaward.com/2020winners

Information on the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164105493X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

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 

Some of our Equine Law Services

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 a wide variety of equine-related 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, US Hunter/Jumper Association Annual Meeting, Midwest Horse Fair, Equitana USA, US Dressage Federation Annual Meeting, North American Riding for the Handicapped (now PATH International) 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 directly.

Follow Us on Twitter!

Follow us for updates regarding news, cases, disputes, and issues regarding Equine Law. @horselawyers