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Our State Has No Equine Activity Liability Act – Are We Worse Off?

Rider Falls From Horse48 states across the country have some form of an Equine Activity Liability Act (as of May 2021). Are people in the two states without such a law – California and Maryland – worse off? If two recent California cases are any indication, courts have shown a willingness to dismiss lawsuits involving people who died in horse-related activities, even without an equine activity liability act.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Involving California Teenager

In a 2015 court ruling, the California Court of Appeals found that a horse trainer/riding instructor's release of liability, signed by a mother as well as her teenage daughter, was enforceable. Accordingly, the court held that a lawsuit against the trainer (also referred to as a "coach") arising from the teenager's death, was properly dismissed. 

The teenager at issue in the lawsuit was a highly experienced rider who was competing in a three-day eventing competition in California. Minutes before the fatal incident occurred, the teenager rode her own horse in the cross-country portion but had been excused due to her horse refusing too many jumps. In an apparent effort to school her horse before leaving the course, however, she steered her horse toward another jump. The horse fell over on her, and she later died.

The parents sued the “coach,” but they lost at trial. They appealed. At issue was whether the release barred the litigation. The California Court of Appeals Court found that it did. It also ruled that the parents’ claims of "gross negligence," which could potentially override the release, were likewise dismissed because of insufficient evidence.

The case was Eriksson v. Nunnink, 233 Cal. App. 4th 708 (Cal. App. 1/27/2015).

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Involving Farrier

A farrier 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 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.”

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 comparable precedent involving farriers who were hurt on the job and sued horse owners. The court noted that the assumption of risk doctrine encompassed "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.

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.

Conclusion

Although every lawsuit’s success or failure depends on its facts and applicable law, these two recent cases show that courts in California, one of four states without some form of an Equine Activity Liability Act, will consider dismissing litigation based on a release or principles of “assumption of risk.”

This article does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

Categories: Did you Know?, Lawsuit, Liability

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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.

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Fershtman’s Book Wins 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 Book Receives 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

Fershtman’s Book Receives Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine La & 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

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. 

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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