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New Cases Show Strength of State Equine Activity Liability Laws

Currently, all states except for California and Maryland have some form of an equine activity liability act (“EALA”). Since the first EALA was enacted 30 years ago, courts have evaluated numerous cases involving these laws. In two recent cases, lawsuits that had been brought by people injured in horse-related activities were dismissed.

Maine Case

In July 2019, Maine’s Supreme Court dismissed the case of McCandless v. Ramsey, Maine Supreme Judicial Court (July 11, 2019), which was based on Maine’s Equine Activity Liability Act. The case involved a plaintiff who was standing within an indoor arena.  In the arena at the time was a horse ridden by the defendants’ 10 year-old daughter. This horse passed plaintiff three times, but during the horse’s fourth pass, it apparently came too close and struck the plaintiff, causing injuries.  

Directly at issue was Maine’s EALA, which provides protection from liability (subject to possible exceptions) if a person was “engaged in an equine activity,” qualifies as a “participant or spectator,” and was injured from “the inherent risks of equine activities.” The plaintiff considered herself to be a “spectator” at the time (a designation with which the court disagreed), and argued that issues existed as to whether her injuries resulted from “inherent risks of equine activities”; in addition, her case raised exceptions of (1) “reckless misconduct” by the defendants’ daughter, and (2) plaintiff being in an area where horses would not be expected or a protected area for spectators.

Affirming dismissal of the case, the court found that the horse’s unanticipated resistance to the rider’s directions was “part and parcel of the ‘propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in … injury,” which was part of the definition of an “inherent risk of equine activity.”  The court went on to state that plaintiff’s interpretation of the statute “would thwart the entire purpose of the law to curtail liability for injuries arising from risks that are ‘impracticable or impossible to eliminate due to the nature of equines.'” It found insufficient evidence of reckless misconduct on the rider’s part because the rider was unable to steer the horse to avoid a collision. As to the second EALA exception at issue, the court found no liability because the incident occurred in an indoor arena where equine activities were occurring. Finally, the court did not consider plaintiff to be a “spectator” under the law because the incident occurred in an area where people were riding horses, as opposed to an observation area.

Wisconsin Case

A September 2018 Wisconsin case, Dilley v. Holiday Acres Properties, Inc., 905 F.3d 508 (7th Cir. 2018), consolidated two equine liability cases. In one of them, Brown v. Country View Equestrian Center, Inc., the plaintiff was taking a riding lesson on her own horse when the instructor allegedly allowed a “high-spirited” horse to enter the arena. That horse allegedly collided with plaintiff’s horse, and she was injured. Her lawsuit raised the Wisconsin EALA exception of “providing a horse and failing to make reasonable and prudent efforts,” but the court found it inapplicable because the plaintiff was riding her own horse at the time. The plaintiff also argued that the defendant instructor “exercised control over the lesson and plaintiff's behavior with respect to her horse,” but the court disagreed and noted that the instructor never made the horse “available” for her use. 

The Dilley opinion also evaluated a second case. There, during a guided trail ride, the horse plaintiff rode tried to pass the trail guide’s horse, which kicked at plaintiff’s horse, causing injuries. Her lawsuit argued that the defendant’s trail operator failed to adjust her stirrups or provide her with a helmet; also, she allegedly told the trail guide that she lost control of the reins to which the guide allegedly responded: “Don’t worry; this horse knows where it wants [to] go.”  The court found that plaintiff’s claims resulted from an “inherent risk of equine activities” under Wisconsin’s EALA. Also, the court found evidence of the defendants’ “reasonable” assessment of the plaintiff’s ability to ride a horse and safely manage the particular horse assigned, but it found no evidence of faulty tack or equipment or willful or wanton disregard of her safety.  Dismissal, the court ruled, was proper under Wisconsin’s EALA.

Conclusion

Please keep in mind that all of the 48 EALAs differ. Whether or not a case succeeds depends on the law and each case’s facts. Read each law carefully in the states where you live and do business and seek advice from knowledgeable legal counsel. If you have further questions about recent updates in Equine Law Liability, contact Julie Fershtman.

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. 

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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