Poorly written release in Massachusetts stop lawsuit for falling off a horse during riding lessons.

Release used poor language and was hidden within an application to learn to ride.

Markovitz v. Cassenti, 56 N.E.3d 894, 90 Mass.App.Ct. 1102 (2016)

State: Massachusetts , Appeals Court of Massachusetts

Plaintiff: Joanne Markovitz

Defendant: Christine Cassenti

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2016

Summary

A release stopped a negligence claim for falling off a horse in Massachusetts. The plaintiff had been riding with the stable for more than a year and had been riding this horse for over a month when she fell off. She argued the Massachusetts Equine Liability Act allowed her to sue. The court said not, the release stopped her lawsuit and her arguments about the Massachusetts Equine Liability Act were incorrect.

Facts

On July 16, 2009, the plaintiff filled out and signed an application for riding lessons at Chrislar Farm. In that application, she wrote that she had six months of riding experience in 2001 and that she wanted to continue to learn to ride. The form contained a section entitled ” RELEASE,” which stated: ” I, the Club member/Student (or parent or guardian) recognize the inherent risks of injury involved in horseback riding/driving and being around horses generally, and in learning to ride/drive in particular. In taking lessons at CHRISLAR FARM or participating in Club activities, I assume any and all such risk of injury and further, I voluntarily release CHRISLAR FARM, its owners, instructors, employees and agents from any and all responsibility on account of any injury I (or my child or ward) may sustain for any reason while on the premises of CHRISLAR FARM or participating in Club activities, and I agree to indemnify and hold harmless CHRISLAR FARM, its owners, instructors, employees and agents on account of any such claim.”

The plaintiff signed the form on the signature line immediately below the release.

Between July of 2009 and September of 2010, the plaintiff took thirty-minute private riding lessons on a regular basis. Between September, 2010, and January, 2011, the plaintiff took one-hour group riding lessons and walked, trotted, and cantered several different horses. On September 3, 2010, the defendants leased a horse named Jolee. Christine Cassenti had known this horse for a long time. The trainer conducting the lessons thought that the horse was ” sweet and did everything you asked her to do.”

The plaintiff first rode Jolee during a ” musical horses” exercise. She then rode Jolee during the next three one-hour group lessons on December 23, 2010, December 30, 2010, and January 6, 2011. At one point during the December 23, 2010, lesson, Jolee went from a trot into a canter and stayed in a circle formation instead of performing a figure eight. Following the instructions from the trainer, the plaintiff slowed down and stopped Jolee. The plaintiff rode Jolee without incident on December 30, 2010, and January 6, 2011.

On January 20, 2011, a year and one-half after the plaintiff began taking lessons at Chrislar Farm, the plaintiff rode Jolee for the fourth time. She noticed that Jolee briefly pinned her ears. After finishing a walk, the plaintiff began trotting Jolee. At one point, Jolee sped up into a faster trot and turned left, causing the plaintiff to lose her balance and fall.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The argument the plaintiff attempted to make was the Massachusetts Equine Liability Act created a duty on the part of the defendants that was not protected by the release. The act listed risks which a rider of a horse accepted. The statute had an exception to that list

“Nothing in subsection (b) shall prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person if the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or person: ” (1) . . . (ii) provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant . . . to safely manage the particular equine based on the participant’s representations of his ability.”

The plaintiff argued this created a new duty which the defendant in this case breached.

However the court found the section did not create a new duty, it only allowed a plaintiff to proceed with a negligence claim in certain exceptional situations. Because the release barred negligence claims the plaintiff’s lawsuit was properly dismissed by the courts.

So Now What?

The odd thing about this case is there was no gross negligence claim to get around the release.

However, the were some risks run by the plaintiff that in other states might have caused problems. They were obvious issues by this court because the court raised them in the facts.

  • The form Application for Riding Lessons also contained the release, hidden in the form.
  • The language in the release was weak and did not contain the word negligence.

But for solid law in Massachusetts supporting releases this case in other states would have gone differently.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Missouri Equine Liability Act

Missouri Revised Statutes

Title XXXVI. STATUTORY ACTIONS AND TORTS

Chapter 537. Torts and Actions for Damages

§ 537.325. Definitions – liability for equine activities, limitations, exceptions – signs required, contents

1.    As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires, the following words and phrases shall mean:

(1)    “Engages in an equine activity”, riding, training, assisting in medical treatment of, driving or being a passenger upon an equine, whether mounted or unmounted, or any person assisting a participant or any person involved in show management. The term “engages in an equine activity” does not include being a spectator at an equine activity, except in cases where the spectator places himself in an unauthorized area;

(2)    “Equine”, a horse, pony, mule, donkey or hinny;

(3)    “Equine activity”:

(a)    Equine shows, fairs, competitions, performances or parades that involve any or all breeds of equines and any of the equine disciplines, including, but not limited to, dressage, hunter and jumper horse shows, grand prix jumping, three-day events, combined training, rodeos, driving, pulling, cutting, polo, steeplechasing, English and western performance riding, endurance trail riding and western games and hunting;

(b)    Equine training or teaching activities or both;

(c)    Boarding equines;

(d)    Riding, inspecting or evaluating an equine belonging to another, whether or not the owner has received or currently receives monetary consideration or other thing of value for the use of the equine or is permitting a prospective purchaser of the equine to ride, inspect or evaluate the equine;

(e)    Rides, trips, hunts or other equine activities however informal or impromptu that are sponsored by an equine activity sponsor; and

(f)    Placing or replacing horseshoes on an equine;

(4)    “Equine activity sponsor”, an individual, group, club, partnership or corporation, whether or not operating for profit or nonprofit, legal entity, or any employee thereof, which sponsors, organizes or provides the facilities for, an equine activity, including but not limited to pony clubs, 4-H clubs, hunt clubs, riding clubs, school- and college-sponsored classes, programs and activities, therapeutic riding programs and operators, instructors and promoters of equine facilities, including but not limited to stables, clubhouses, pony ride strings, fairs and arenas at which the activity is held;

(5)    “Equine professional”, a person engaged for compensation, or an employee of such a person engaged:

(a)    In instructing a participant or renting to a participant an equine for the purpose of riding, driving or being a passenger upon the equine; or

(b)    In renting equipment or tack to a participant;

(6)    “Inherent risks of equine or livestock activities”, those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of equine or livestock activities, including but not limited to:

(a)    The propensity of any equine or livestock to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm or death to persons on or around it;

(b)    The unpredictability of any equine’s or livestock’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 equines, livestock, or objects;

(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 ability;

(7)    “Livestock”, the same as used in section 277.020 ;

(8)    “Livestock activity”:

(a)    Grazing, herding, feeding, branding, milking, or other activity that involves the care or maintenance of livestock;

(b)    A livestock show, fair, competition, or auction;

(c)    A livestock training or teaching activity;

(d)    Boarding livestock; and

(e)    Inspecting or evaluating livestock;

(9)    “Livestock activity sponsor”, an individual, group, club, partnership, or corporation, whether or not operating for profit or nonprofit, legal entity, or any employee thereof, which sponsors, organizes, or provides the facilities for a livestock activity;

(10)    “Livestock facility”, a property or facility at which a livestock activity is held;

(11)    “Livestock owner”, a person who owns livestock that is involved in livestock activity;

(12)    “Participant”, any person, whether amateur or professional, who engages in an equine activity or a livestock activity, whether or not a fee is paid to participate in the equine activity or livestock activity.

2.    Except as provided in subsection 4 of this section, an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, a livestock activity sponsor, a livestock owner, a livestock facility, a livestock auction market, any employee thereof, or any other person or corporation shall not be liable for an injury to or the death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine or livestock activities and, except as provided in subsection 4 of this section, no participant or a participant’s representative shall make any claim against, maintain an action against, or recover from an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, a livestock activity sponsor, a livestock owner, a livestock facility, a livestock auction market, any employee thereof, or any other person from injury, loss, damage or death of the participant resulting from any of the inherent risks of equine or livestock activities.

3.    This section shall not apply to the horse racing industry as regulated in sections 313.050 to 313.720. This section shall not apply to any employer-employee relationship governed by the provisions of, and for which liability is established pursuant to, chapter 287.

4.    The provisions of subsection 2 of this section shall not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, a livestock activity sponsor, a livestock owner, a livestock facility, a livestock auction market, any employee thereof, or any other person if the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, livestock activity sponsor, livestock owner, livestock facility, livestock auction market, any employee thereof, or person:

(1)    Provided the equipment or tack and knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty and such equipment or tack was faulty to the extent that the equipment or tack caused the injury; or

(2)    Provided the equine or livestock and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity or livestock activity and determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine or livestock based on the participant’s age, obvious physical condition or the participant’s representations of his or her ability;

(3)    Owns, leases, rents or otherwise is in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities upon which the participant sustained injuries because of a dangerous latent condition which was known to the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, livestock activity sponsor, livestock owner, livestock facility, livestock auction market, any employee thereof, or person and for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted;

(4)    Commits an act or omission that constitutes willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant and that act or omission caused the injury;

(5)    Intentionally injures the participant;

(6)    Fails to use that degree of care that an ordinarily careful and prudent person would use under the same or similar circumstances.

5.    The provisions of subsection 2 of this section shall not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, a livestock activity sponsor, a livestock owner, a livestock facility, a livestock auction market, or any employee thereof under liability provisions as set forth in any other section of law.

6.    Every equine activity sponsor and livestock activity sponsor shall post and maintain signs which contain the warning notice specified in this subsection. Such signs shall be placed in a clearly visible location on or near stables, corrals or arenas where the equine activity sponsor or livestock activity sponsor conducts equine or livestock activities if such stables, corrals or arenas are owned, managed or controlled by the equine activity sponsor or livestock activity sponsor. The warning notice specified in this subsection shall appear on the sign in black letters on a white background with each letter to be a minimum of one inch in height. Every written contract entered into by an equine professional, an equine activity sponsor, a livestock activity sponsor, a livestock owner, a livestock facility, a livestock auction market, or any employee thereof for the providing of professional services, instruction or the rental of equipment, tack, or an equine to a participant, whether or not the contract involves equine or livestock activities on or off the location or site of the equine professional’s, equine activity sponsor’s, or livestock activity sponsor’s business, shall contain in clearly readable print the warning notice specified in this subsection. The signs and contracts described in this subsection shall contain the following warning notice:

WARNING

Under Missouri law, an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, a livestock activity sponsor, a livestock owner, a livestock facility, a livestock auction market, or any employee thereof is not liable for an injury to or the death of a participant in equine or livestock activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine or livestock activities pursuant to the Revised Statutes of Missouri.

Cite as § 537.325, RSMo

History. Amended by 2015 Mo. Laws, SB 12, s A, eff. 8/28/2015.

Amended by 2014 Mo. Laws, HB 1326, s A, eff. 12/20/2014.

L. 1994 S.B. 457

Note:

*Word “means” appears here in original rolls.

**Word “them” appears in original rolls.

(2004) Exculpatory clause must show clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk to be enforceable, and section does not relieve riding instructors or stable owners of duty to exercise reasonable care. Frank v. Mathews, 136 S.W.3d 196 (Mo.App.W.D.).