What is an “Inherent Risk” With Horses?
Nationwide, 47 states now have some form of an equine activity liability act (“EALA”). All of these laws differ, but most share common characteristics. EALAs often provide that “equine activity sponsors,” “equine professionals,” or “another person” are not liable if the “participant” sustained injury, death, or damage as a result of an “inherent risk of equine activity.” Georgia’s EALA, for example, defines “inherent risk” this way:
‘Inherent risks of equine activities’ . . . means those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of equine activities or llama activities, as the case may be, including, but not limited to:
(A) The propensity of the animal to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around them;
(B) The unpredictability of the animal's reaction to such things as sounds, sudden movement, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals;
(C) Certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions;
(D) Collisions with other animals or objects; and
(E) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the animal or not acting within his or her ability.
A frequent issue is whether the EALA bars an injured person’s claim because an “inherent risk of equine activity” caused the injuries. Numerous courts around the country have grappled with this issue. Let’s review a sampling of the cases.
An “Inherent Risk” Caused the Injuries and Warranted Dismissal
Here are a few cases where courts dismissed lawsuits based on a state EALA, finding that an “inherent risk” caused the injuries under the facts of the case.
- Ohio - A horse’s reaction to a dog, which jumped at the horse’s back legs, was deemed an “inherent risk” under Ohio’s EALA.
- Indiana - Getting trampled by a loose horse at an event was an “inherent risk of equine activity” under Indiana’s EALA.
- Kentucky - A horse spooking from the sound of an opening gate was an “inherent risk” under Kentucky’s EALA.
- Texas - A horse spooking during a trail ride, while riding across muddy and swampy terrain, was an “inherent risk” under the Texas EALA.
- New Jersey - A horse backing and tripping over a cavaletti in the riding lesson arena was an “inherent risk” under New Jersey’s EALA.
- Texas - A horse’s violent reaction to the bite from a fire ant was deemed an “inherent risk” under the Texas EALA.
- Wyoming - The risk of a saddle slipping during a trail ride was an “inherent risk” under Wyoming’s EALA.
Courts Found that “Inherent Risk” Was an Issue for the Jury to Decide
In these cases, courts ruled that a jury needed to decide whether an “inherent risk” caused the injuries and would not dismiss the cases outright.
- Wyoming - Court found that a trail ride staff’s alleged failure to saddle a horse with even stirrups was an issue of fact for the jury.
- Hawaii - Whether plaintiff’s injury from a horse bite during a trail ride was caused by an “inherent risk” was considered to be a question of fact for the jury.
Equine activity liability acts have been credited with dismissing some equine and equestrian-related cases, but the issues can become complicated, and there is never a guarantee that a court will dismiss a case based on the facts and the applicable law. Plan ahead, stay properly insured, and comply with state EALA requirements that apply to you.
This blog post does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.
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.
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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