New Jersey Court Dismisses Lawsuit against Stable Brought by Injured Visitor
Injured Child Visiting Stable with Family Was Still a “Participant” Under Equine Activity Liability Law
As of January 30, 2017, 47 states – all but California, Maryland, and New York – have passed some form of an Equine Activity Liability Act (“EALA”). These laws sometimes share common characteristics, but all of them differ. Most follow a pattern that prevents an “equine activity sponsor,” “equine professional,” or possibly others from being sued if a “participant” who “engages in an equine activity” suffers injury, death or damage from an “inherent risk.”
Lawsuits sometimes focus on whether an injured visitor at a stable or event qualifies as an “equine activity participant” and whether that person’s case is properly dismissed based on immunities in a state EALA. On January 9, 2017, the New Jersey Court of Appeals looked at the issue of whether that state’s EALA – called the Equestrian Activities Liability Act, N.J.S.A. 5:15 1 to 12 – applied to a minor who accompanied family members to a horse stable but took no part in any horse-related activities there. The plaintiff in that case was a nine year-old boy who joined his mother and older sister at a stable. On the day of the incident, he was not riding or handling a horse. As he walked down a barn aisle, a horse in one of the stalls reached out its head and bit him, causing injuries. His mother, at the time, was cleaning a horse stall nearby.
For the law to apply, the plaintiff needed to qualify as a “participant.” That law defined a “participant” as:
any person, whether an amateur or professional, engaging in an equine animal activity, whether or not a fee is paid to engage in the equine animal activity or, if a minor, the natural guardian, or trainer of that person standing in loco parentis, and shall include anyone accompanying the participant, or any person coming onto the property of the provider of equine animal activities or equestrian area whether or not an invitee or person pays consideration.
Emphasis added. Although New Jersey’s EALA states that “participants” and “spectators” assume the risk of equine animal activities [N.J.S.A. 5:15-3], it also states, in part:
The assumption of risk set forth in . . . this act shall be a complete bar of suit and shall serve as a complete defense to a suit against an operator by a participant for injuries resulting from the assumed risv ks, notwithstanding the provisions of P.L.1973, c. 146 (C.2A:15-5.1 et seq.) relating to comparative negligence. . . .
Emphasis added. Although the plaintiff argued that the EALA’s immunities were inapplicable to him because he was not there for “equine-related purposes,” the Court rejected this because the EALA defined “participant” to extend to people “accompanying” the participant. That day, his mother and older sister were “participants” because his mother gave a riding lesson and cleaned her horse’s stall, and his sister fed horses. As a result, the Court ruled that the boy was a “participant,” as well, and his lawsuit against the stable was properly dismissed.
The case was: Kirkpatrick v. Hidden View Farm, New Jersey Court of Appeals, 1/9/2017.
Julie Fershtman 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.View All Posts by Author ›
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Julie Fershtman, author of our popular and prolific Equine Law Blog, was interviewed this week 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.
Honors & Recognitions
Congratulations, Julie! We're proud to share that Julie Fershtman has received two prestigious awards.
On April 13, 2013, she received the American Youth Horse Council's 2013 "Distinguished Service" Award. As the award itself states, she received it "[i]n recognition of years of dedicated service to the American Youth Horse Council and tireless efforts to touch the lives of youth involved with horses." For more information about the American Youth Horse Council, please visit www.ayhc.com/.
On May 7, 2013, Julie received the 2013 "Industry Award" from the Michigan Equine Partnership for her work over the years supporting legislation to promote and protect the Michigan equine industry. For more information about the Michigan Equine Partnership, please visit www.miequine.com/.
RECENT EQUINE LAW COURTROOM VICTORY
We're pleased to share that Julie just won a case in Michigan where she defended a boarding and training stable that was sued by a visitor who was injured in the barn aisle. Julie cautions that this case might have been avoided altogether if the stable required every visitor to sign its waiver/release of liability. (Julie, interestingly, drafted that stable's release document years ago but the stable only presented it to customers.) Make sure that your release is well-worded and complies with the laws of your state.
"The Seller's Contract Includes an "As Is" Disclaimer – Now What?" - Desert Mirage Magazine, August 2013
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Large Step Forward for the Horse Industry
We applaud the American Horse Council (www.horsecouncil.org) for its national marketing initiative for the horse industry. The AHC joined together ten national associations and large corporate industry stakeholders to make this happen. We await its marketing plan, which will propose ways to help people become more interested in horses and equine activities, either as participants or spectators.
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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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