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Equine Liability: Related Cases

Case Name Citation Summary
Baker v. McIntosh   132 S.W.3d 230 (Ky. 2004)  

Visitor to horse farm brought action for negligence when he was injured by owners colt.  Held:  the owner had no duty to prevent the colt from falling against the trailer door, nor did he have a duty to warn the visitor of the potential for such an accident to occur.

 
Balen v. Peltier (NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS DESIGNATED AS UNPUBLISHED AND MAY NOT BE CITED EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY MINN. ST. SEC. 480A.08(3).   2006 WL 163518 (Minn.App.2006)  

Plaintiff sued defendant for injuries she received after being thrown from defendant’s horse. Specifically, plaintiff argued that defendant knew or should have known of the horse’s “hazardous propensities” and therefore had a duty to protect plaintiff. In finding that there existed no special relationship between the parties to impart a duty to defendant, defendant’s motion for summary judgment was affirmed.

 
Beckwith v. Weber   277 P.3d 713 (Wyo. 2012)   While on vacation at a ranch in Wyoming, plaintiff was thrown or fell from a horse that stepped in a large badger hole. Allegedly, the trail guide left the plaintiff and her husband at the scene in order to get help. Worried about potential wildlife attacks, the plaintiff and her husband walked to a nearby residence for assistance. The plaintiff later brought a negligence suit against the ranch for injuries she had sustained during the fall. At trial, the jury verdict stated the plaintiff had assumed the risk and the plaintiff was therefore not entitled to damages. On appeal, the plaintiff challenged a jury instruction and asserted the trial court abused its discretion when it awarded costs to the ranch. The plaintiff did not prevail on either claim.  
Browning v. State   2007 WL 1805918 (Ind.App.)   The Brownings were each charged with 32 counts of animal cruelty and convicted of five counts for their failure to provide adequate nutrition and veterinary care to their horses and cattle.  As a result, Cass County seized and boarded several of their animals at a significant cost to the county.  Although only five of those horses and cattle were ultimately deemed to be the subject of the defendants' cruelty, the appellate court affirmed the order requiring the Brownings to reimburse the county for boarding and caring for the horses and cattle during the proceedings totaling approximately $14,000 in fines and costs.  
Burns v. Leap   645 S.E.2d 751 (Ga.App., 2007)  

In this Georgia case, the plaintiff-invitee was knocked into a barbed wire fence by horse that was being boarded by the property owner, suffering injuries as a result. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court's order of summary judgment, finding that, under dangerous-animal statute, the property owner did not know of any vicious propensity on part of horse. Further, the invitee failed to show that horse had a vicious propensity and therefore could not prevail on premises-liability claim.

 
Clyncke v. Waneka   157 P.3d 1072 (Colo. 2007)  

In this Colorado case, an inexperienced horse rider who was injured in fall from horse during a horse roundup, brought an action under the Colorado Equine Activities Statute against the owners of riding stable. The lower court, after a jury trial, entered a judgment for the stable owners. On appeal at the Supreme Court, the Court found that the Equine Statute places a two-pronged duty on sponsors; a sponsor is liable when he or she fails to make reasonable efforts to determine either a participant's ability to engage in the equine activity or a participant's ability to manage a particular horse. Here, a new trial was in order because the result may have been different if court had properly instructed the jury regarding the exception from civil liability for the sponsor.

 
Courbat v. Dahana Ranch, Inc.   141 P.3d 427 (Hawai'i, 2006)  

The cases concerns personal injuries sustained by one of the plaintiffs (Lisa) while she and her husband were on a horseback riding tour on the Dahana Ranch on the Big Island of Hawai'i. Prior to taking the ride, they signed waivers. The Courbats do not dispute that they both signed the Ranch's waiver form; rather, they assert that the Ranch's practice of booking ride reservations through an activity company, receiving payment prior to the arrival of the guest, and then, upon the guest's arrival at the Ranch, requiring the guest to sign a liability waiver as a precondition to horseback riding is an unfair and deceptive business practice. The question whether a waiver requirement would be materially important in booking a horseback tour remains one for the trier of fact. Because a genuine issue of material fact, resolvable only by the trier of fact, remains in dispute, the grant of summary judgment on the claim was erroneous the court held.

 
Dodge v. Durdin   187 S.W.3d 523 (Tex. App.-Hous. (1 Dist.), 2005)    Employee brought a negligence action against employer for injuries suffered when administering medicine to an untamed horse.  District Court granted summary judgment stating that the plaintiff was considered a "participant" under the Equine Act.  Plaintiff appealed.  Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case stating that the Equine Act did not apply because the Act covered consumers, not employees.   
DOYLE v DEPUTY SHERIFF'S   758 N.Y.S.2d 791 (N.Y.Sup. 2003)  

In this New York case, a minor child was injured when he was kicked by defendant's horse while defendant was in the process of the setting up a petting zoo at a picnic. The court was posed with the question of whether limited circumstances exist to support a negligence claim where a person is injured by a domestic animal and there is no proof of the animal's vicious propensities (the pony in this case never kicked anyone or showed any vicious propensities). The court answered the question in the affirmative. Here, defendant is subject to the enhanced duty of horse owners to young children. There were triable issues of fact as to defendant's negligence in the manner in which the horses were unloaded while in the presence of children that precluded summary judgment for defendant.

 
Eslin v. County of Suffolk   795 N.Y.S. 2d 349 (2005)  

A woman was horseback riding at a ranch in New York and was injured when she fell off the horse. The woman had signed a Horse Rental Agreement and Liability Release Form before the accident.  The court determined that the rider assumed the risk of injury and the lower court's decision to deny defendant's motion for summary judgment was reversed. 

 
Fallini v. Hodel   783 F.2d 1343 (9th Cir. 1986)   The Wild and Free-Roaming Horse Act does not require that wild horses be prevented from straying onto private land, only that they be removed if they do stray onto private land.    
Florice v. Brown   679 So.2d 501 (La.App. 2 Cir. 8/21/96)   In this Louisiana case, an inexperienced rider was thrown from a horse and sued the horse's owner for negligence and strict liability. After the lower court dismissed the claim, the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, this court held that the horse did not pose an unreasonable risk of harm to the rider such as to warrant imposing strict liability on the owner. The court noted that not every risk of injury posed by an animal represents an unreasonable risk. Here, the evidence established that the horse had a gentle disposition and the movement that caused the plaintiff to be thrown was not unusual or aggressive behavior but rather was simply "horse-like behavior."  
Kinara v. Jamaica Bay Riding Academy, Inc.   783 N.Y.S.2d 636 (N.Y., 2004)   Plaintiff was kicked by a horse ridden by her friend while trail riding.  Plaintiff sued the Defendant who owned the horse and trail Plaintiff was riding on.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision holding Plaintiff assumed the risk.  
King v. CJM Country Stables   315 F.Supp.2d 1061 (D. Hawaii, 2004)   Horseback rider was bitten during a trail ride and brought suit in personal injury.  After removal to Federal Court, the Court held that Hawaii's recreational activity liability statute was applicable and that summary judgment was not appropriate.  Motion for summary judgment denied.  
Ladnier v. Hester   98 So.3d 1074 (Miss.App., 2011)   Plaintiff motorist sued horse owner for negligence after he collided with the horse that was loose on the highway. The Court of Appeals sustained summary judgment for owner because the motorist produced no evidence that owner 1) had failed to act with reasonable care in enclosing his horses, 2) that horse had a propensity to escape or cause injury that gave rise to a heightened duty on owner's part, and 3) motorist produced no circumstantial evidence that would imply negligence, such as a dilapidated fence. This judgment was Reversed by Ladnier v. Hester, 98 So.3d 1025 (Miss., 2012).  
Macho v. Mahowald   374 N.W.2d 312 (Minn.App.,1985)   In this Minnesota case, a rider brought an action for personal injuries suffered after the defendant-owner's horse bolted while the rider was mounting the horse. The lower court entered judgment notwithstanding the verdict for the owner. The rider appealed. The Court of Appeals held that evidence showing that the horse had previously bolted was sufficient to create an issue for the jury as to whether the horse had a propensity to be dangerous. Further, with regard to whether the owner was negligent in allowing the rider to mount without properly adjusting the saddle equipment, the court found that the jury could have properly found both parties were negligent in failing to adjust the stirrups.  
McDermott v. Carie, LLC   329 Mont. 295 (Mt. 2005)   Plaintiff, after signing waiver of liability release, severed his finger while untying the horse from a fence. Though the waiver was illegal, defendants were allowed to enter a redacted release into evidence to show that the plaintiff was aware that equine activities were inherently dangerous. Montana Supreme Court held that the trial court did not err in admitting the document and that because plaintiff had failed to object to the release during trial and voir dire, he waived his right to appeal.  
Moreland v. Adams   152 P.3d 558 (Idaho, 2007)  

A motorcyclist died when he ran into a calf on the road. His family sued for wrongful death. The court held that the owner of the calf was not liable because of open range immunity.

 
Mountain States Legal Foundation v. Hodel   799 F.2d 1423 (10th Cir. 1986)   Horses protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act are not instruments of the federal government, and therefore incursions by wild horses onto private land do not constitute a Fifth Amendment taking requiring just compensation.    
Nigro v. New York Racing Ass'n, Inc.   93 A.D.3d 647 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept. 2012)   An experienced exercise rider sued the owner of a race track seeking damages for personal injury after the horse she was riding fell on her while crossing a gravel-strewn asphalt road. The Supreme Court held that the rider assumed the risk that the horse might fall by choosing to cross the road despite being aware of the danger. The doctrine of “primary assumption of the risk” applied, and the owner of the premises was not at fault.  
Smith v. Lane   832 N.E.2d 947 (Ill.App. 5 Dist. 2005)  

In this Illinois case, the passenger of horse-drawn carriage brought action in negligence and strict liability against driver of carriage and owner of horse and carriage for injuries passenger received when carriage went off road and overturned. The lower court dismissed all of passenger's counts.  On appeal, the Appellate Court held that, as matter of first impression, the passenger was not subject to provisions of EALA, and the alleged facts sufficient to state cause of action under state Animal Control Act.

 
State v. Peterson   --- P.3d ----, 2013 WL 2156837 (Wa. Ct. App.)  
In this case, defendant appeals six counts of first degree animal cruelty charges. On appeal, the defendant argued that (1) the statute she was convicted under, RCW 16.52.205(6), was unconstitutionally vague; that (2) starvation and dehydration were alternative means of committing first degree animal cruelty and that (3) there was no substantial evidence supporting the horses suffered from dehydration. The defendant also argued that the Snohomish Superior court had no authority to order her to reimburse the county for caring for her horses. The appeals court, however, held that RCW 16.52.205(6) was not unconstitutionally vague; that starvation and dehydration were alternative means to commit first degree animal cruelty, but there was substantial evidence to support the horses suffered from dehydration; and that the superior court had authority to order the defendant to pay restitution to the county.  
Stoffels v. Harmony Hill Farm   2006 WL 3699549 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2006)   An owner of a horse farm acquired a new horse that had only recently been broken in and got a woman with some health problems to ride the horse. The horse bucked and threw the defendant off the horse causing injury. The court held that even though riders assume the risk of most injuries, a horse owner can be liable for failure to take reasonable measures to match the rider to a suitable horse.  
Tennant v. Tabor   89 A.D.3d 1461 (N.Y.A.D. 4 Dept.., 2011)   Motorist collided with a horse and sued horse owners for damages. The Supreme Court held that, even if horse owners violated statute requiring them to provide shelter to horse, this did not constitute common-law negligence, which was required for damages. In addition, horse owners were not liable because there was no evidence that horse exhibited propensity to interfere with traffic prior to incident involving motorist.  
Tilson v. Russo   30 A.D.3d 856 (N.Y.A.D. 3 Dept., 2006),   In this New York case, plaintiff, an experienced recreational horse rider, was bitten by a horse she intended to use to practice her techniques at defendant's stable. The rider then brought a negligence action against owners of horse that bit her on the shoulder. In affirming the lower court's granting of summary judgment, the appellate court found that rider's injury occurred in the context of her participation in the recreational sporting activity of horseback riding, for purposes of primary assumption of the risk principles. She was aware of the inherent risks in sporting events involving horses, had an appreciation of the nature of the risks, and voluntarily assumed those risks.  
Trummer v. Niewisch   792 N.Y.S.2d 596 (N.Y., 2005)   A woman fell from a horse during a riding lesson when her horse was frightened.  The woman brought claims against the riding facility and riding instructor for negligence.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants and the Court of Appeals affirmed reasoning horses becoming frightened is an inherent risk when riding.  
Vanderbrook v. Emerald Springs Ranch   109 A.D.3d 1113 (N.Y.A.D. 4 Dept.,2013).   While on a guided trail ride, plaintiff's horse brushed up against a tree that the plaintiff was unable to push away from. As a result, plaintiff's leg and hip sustained injuries and the plaintiff sued the ranch and the ranch's owners. Defendants’ appealed the Wayne County Supreme Court denial for the defendants' motion for summary. On appeal, the court found the Supreme Court properly denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment. First, the court found the defendants failed to meet their initial burden of establishing entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the issues of the horse's vicious propensity and defendants' knowledge of that propensity.  
Vendrella v. Astriab Family Ltd. Partnership   36 A.3d 707 (Conn.App.,2012)  

Minor sued farmer horse-owner for negligence after farmer's horse bit him. The Appellate Court reversed summary judgment, holding that a fact issue remained as to whether the farmer had notice that the horse belonged to a class of domestic animals that possessed a natural propensity to bite. Such knowledge may make certain injuries foreseeable, giving rise to a duty to use reasonable care to restrain the animal to prevent injury.

 
Zuckerman v. Coastal Camps, Inc.   716 F.Supp.2d 23 (D.Me., 2010)   This case arose after twelve-year old Samantha Zuckerman sustained injuries when she fell the pony she was riding during a horseback riding lesson at Camp Laurel in Mount Vernon, Maine. Samantha alleged that her instructors improperly saddled the pony, which caused her saddle to slip. In appealing the Magistrate's recommended decision, Camp Laurel again claims that it is immune from liability under Maine Equine Activities Act because a slipping saddle is a risk inherent to the sport of horseback riding. Camp Laurel contends that the faulty tack exception is limited to situations where the tack cracks, breaks, or frays and does not include  an “improperly tightened girth” or an “inappropriate pony” or “faulty horse.” This Court agreed with the Magistrate Judge that the record raises a genuine issue of material fact concerning the “faulty” tack exception. The Court found that the negligence here was tied to an exception to the liability shield - faulty tack.  

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