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Your State Enacted or Amended its Equine Activity Liability Act – Are the Changes Retroactive?

When an equine activity liability statute is amended, are the amendments retroactive to the date when the law was initially passed?  Or, do the amendments take effect going forward? 

If an equine-related accident occurs before an equine activity liability act becomes the law, can the court apply the (after-enacted) law?

Courts around the country have examined these issues. This article addresses two cases.

Equine Statute Amended - Michigan Case

In a 2016 Michigan case, the plaintiff, a minor, took part in a trail ride while attending a horseback riding camp at the defendant’s horse ranch.  During the ride, the plaintiff’s assigned horse spooked and ran off.  The plaintiff fell from the horse and was injured.  After this incident occurred, Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act was amended to remove its “negligence” exception for “equine professionals.”  The amendment stated that the “equine professional’s” act or omission must constitute "a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant" as well as be a proximate cause of the injury, death or damage.  The trial court granted the defendant ranch's motion to dismiss the case, but the plaintiff appealed. 

Among the issues before the appellate court on appeal was whether the amended law could be applied retroactively to benefit the defendant equine professional.  It could not, the Court noted, because the amendments took effect after the accident had already occurred.

Equine Statute Newly Enacted – Florida Case

In a 1997 Florida case, the defendant stable assigned the plaintiff, a 14 year-old summer camper, a horse for a trail ride.  The horse allegedly went out of control and collided with a tree, causing the plaintiff to sustain injuries.  On the strength of Florida’s Equine Activity Liability Act, the trial court dismissed the case, but the appellate court reversed. In doing so, it found that the statute had not taken effect at the time of the accident and was wrongly applied retroactively.

The cases were:  Johnson v. Outback Lodge & Equestrian Ctr., No. 323556, 2016 Mich. App. LEXIS 456 (Mich. App. 3/10/2016), and Dilallo v. Riding Safely, Inc., 687 So.2d 353 (Fla. App. 1997).

This blog post does not constitute legal advice.  Courts can evaluate laws and cases differently. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

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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"Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award" - American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Law Section Animal Law Committee

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"Industry Service Award" - Michigan Equine Partnership

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