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Indiana Equine Liability Statute used to stop litigation

Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

Issue of failure to post the required notice, not at issue when the plaintiff admitted reading the sign on the other building.

In this case, the plaintiff was an adult leader of a 4-H house club. The plaintiff had helped the kids and participated in the activity for years and owned seven horses. During an event, the plaintiff was moving to assist a child who had lined her horse up in a way that was irritating other horses. While moving to assist the child the plaintiff was kicked by a horse.

The event was held in a building that was only used once a year. Normally, all events were held at the horse building. The horse building had the required Indiana Equine Liability Act signs on all entrances into the building. The plaintiff had been in the Horse Building and admitted seeing the signs.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court based upon the issue that the accident was caused by a horse, and the defendant was protected under the Indiana statute. The motion was granted, and the plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

The plaintiff claimed the 4-H club was negligent for having a horse show in premises that were unsuitable for such activities. The plaintiff also argued that there were no warning signs as required by the statute posted around the building were the accidents occurred.

The court reviewed the statute and the required posting of the warning notice. The statute could not be used as a defense, unless there was a sign posted around the building or on the premises.

34-31-5-3.  Warning notices required.

(a)        This chapter does not apply unless an equine activity sponsor or an equine professional posts and maintains in at least one (1) location on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity a sign on which is printed the warning notice set forth in section 5 [IC 34-31-5-5] of this chapter.

(b)        A sign referred to in subsection (a) must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity.

(c)The warning notice on a sign referred to in subsection (a) must be printed in black letters, and each letter must be at least one (1) inch in height.

The court found that signs on the other building were sufficient to meet the requirements of the statute. It did so not by finding the signs were present, but by finding the plaintiff did not prove the signs were absent. An affidavit of the defendant stating the signs were present shifted the burden of proof to the plaintiff and the plaintiff failed to prove the necessary facts.

The plaintiff then argued that her injury did not arise from an inherent risk of an equine activity. (Really? The number-one  thing’s horses do is kick; number two is bite and number three throw  you off; This from a person who has been kicked, bitten and thrown off horses.)

The court found the plaintiff was injured by an inherent risk of hanging around horses.

The statutory definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” includes, without limitation, “[t]he unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals,” and “[t]he propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. Such risks directly caused Perry’s injury, in that the horse kicked as part of an unpredictable reaction to the other horse nearby and, Perry alleges, the close quarters and unfamiliar environment of the Show Barn.

So Now What?

The obvious argument of the plaintiff was the injury was not due to the actions of the horse but because of the negligence of the 4-H. This normally is very effective in eliminating the defense of equine liability statutes. The human was liable; the horse was not the cause of the accident, just what was being ridden.

Looking at the argument a different way, the ladder failed not because the ladder broke, but because the person who placed the ladder where he did, caused the ladder to break.

The second issue is always having extra statutorily required warning signs, posting them wherever  there are horses. It would have been easy to post a sign on the entrance with tape just for the event. Better, post a warning sign near the entrance into the grounds and on every building.

Finally, this was a lucky case. Another court could have ruled the club was negligent for creating the situation. Most courts have. Since equine liability acts have been enacted, lawsuits against horses have disappeared, however, suits against horse owners are on the rise.

Like a broken record, having all the participants, youth, parents and adults sign a release would have prevented this action, or at least made it even quicker to dismiss under Indiana’s law.

Plaintiff: Teresa Perry

 

Defendant: Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc.

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: Indiana Equine Liability Statute

 

Holding: For the defendant. The acts that gave rise to the plaintiff’s injuries were protected from suit by the Indiana statute.

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