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One winner for equine liability statutes. Indiana statute stops litigation based on horse kick.

However, the plaintiff in this case owned horses and participated as a volunteer in the activities. Equine liability statutes protect horses better than the horse owners.

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

Plaintiff: Teresa Perry

Defendant: Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: injuries were caused by the 4-H Club‘s negligence in “allowing horse activities to be conducted on premises unsuitable for such activities.” the 4-H Club was negligent in deciding to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn instead of the Horse Barn…

Defendant Defenses: Equine Activity Statute

Holding:

The plaintiff was a volunteer with the defendant 4-H Club serving on its Equine Advisory Board. She also owned seven horses. During an event, the plaintiff walked over to a child to instruct the child to move her horse because she was at risk of being injured. The plaintiff in the process was kicked by a horse.

The plaintiff sued. The trial court dismissed the case based on the Indiana Equine Activity Statute. This appeal followed.

Summary of the case

The court fist looked at its duties when interpreting a statute for the first time.

When courts set out to construe a statute, the goal is to determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. The first place courts look for evidence is the language of the statute itself, and courts strive to give the words their plain and ordinary meaning. We examine the statute as a whole and try to avoid excessive reliance on a strict literal meaning or the selective reading of individual words. We presume the legislature intended the language used in the statute to be applied logically, consistent with the statute’s underlying policy and goals, and not in a manner that would bring about an unjust or absurd result.

The court then looked at the requirements of the statute and whether or not the defendant had met the requirements. First, the protection afforded by the statute does not apply unless at least one warning sign is posted on the premises.

…the Equine Activity Statute provides that an equine activity sponsor, as a condition precedent to immunity under the statute, must post and maintain a warning sign in at least one location “on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a)I. The sign “must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity,” and the warning must be printed in black letters at least one inch in height. Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(b), (c).

The court found the signs were posted at all entrances to the horse barn and were clearly visible. However, there were no signs on the show barn where the incident occurred. However, the plaintiff admitted that she had seen the signs posted on the horse barn.

The next issue was whether or not the incident and injury the plaintiff suffered were an inherent risk of equine activities. (Really? I grew up with horses; being kicked happens…….a lot.) In this case, the plaintiff tried to argue the language in the statute did not cover the actual incident that caused her injury. Meaning the accident was not caused by an inherent risk but by negligence of the defendants.

Subject to section 2 of this chapter, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for:

(1) an injury to a participant; or

(2) the death of a participant;

resulting from an inherent risk of equine activities.

Ind. Code § 34-31-5-1(a). 2  The definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” is:

the dangers or conditions that are an integral part of equine activities, including the following:

(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.

(2) The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals.

(3) Hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions.

(4) Collisions with other equines or objects.

(5) 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 the participant’s ability.

Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. The Equine Activity Statute further provides:

Section 1 of this chapter does not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor . . .:

(1) who:

(A) provided equipment or tack that was faulty and that caused the injury; and

(B) knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty;

(2) who provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts based on the participant’s representations of the participant’s ability to:

(A) determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity; and

(B) determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine;

(3) who:

(A) was in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities on which the participant sustained injuries; and

(B) knew or should have known of the dangerous latent condition that caused the injuries;

if warning signs concerning the latent dangerous condition were not conspicuously posted on the land or in the facilities;

(4) who committed an act or omission that:

(A) constitutes reckless disregard for the safety of the participant; and

(B) caused the injury; or

(5) who intentionally injured the participant.

The court’s analysis quasi reversed the plaintiff’s argument. If the injury was caused by an inherent risk of equine activities, then it would not matter if the defendant was negligent.

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.”

The plaintiff’s injuries were due to an inherent risk of horses.

As explained above, the statute does not require that an equine activity sponsor’s alleged negligence in no way contribute to the injury complained of. Rather, the Equine Activity Statute only requires that, in order for immunity to apply, the injury must have resulted from broad categories of risk deemed integral to equine activities, regardless of whether the sponsor was negligent.

Consequently, the court held the complaint was properly dismissed, and the defendant was not liable.

So Now What?

This is a great case; the statute worked. I now have to change my quote. Equine liability statutes are 100% effective. Since being passed no horse has been sued, but owners of horses are still being sued. And the statute protected one of them.

If you are subject to a statute that requires signs, post them everywhere. Post them in every location where people enter the premises. Post them on every building and every building entrance. Post them inside the building were spectators, and participants will see the signs. The signs are cheap compared to the cost of litigation.

Understand the statute and make sure you fulfill every aspect of the statute and cover all the requirements.

As this case points out, however, the statute still left a lot to lose a lawsuit over. Statutes are rarely written to provide 100% protection. Consequently, unless you want to litigate every word in the statute, use additional defenses.

1.      Use a release. As pointed out in this case, if interpreted differently or if a sign had blown away, the best defense to this lawsuit would have been a release.

2.    Educate the youth you are working with and the adults working with them. In this case, the adult was there because of her knowledge of the risks of the activity.

One point that stands out in this decision is the knowledge and experience of the plaintiff.  It is hard for someone who owns seven horses to argue that getting kicked by a horse is not an inherent risk of horses.

Would this decision be different if the plaintiff had no knowledge or experience with horses?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

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