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’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
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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.
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