University of Vermont AAHS

Equine Activity Statutes: Part One of An Update

By
Robert O. Dawson
Professor of Law
University of Texas
School of Law
Secretary/Treasurer AAHS

[reproduced from Caution:Horses, Volume 4, No. 2, Summar 1999]

When I last wrote a HorseLaw article on Equine Activity Statutes, it was 1995, there were statutes in 35 states, and there were almost no law opinions interpreting and applying them. Now, there are statutes in 44 states (Oklahoma added its statute in June of 1999) and there are at least a dozen cases dealing with one or another aspect of them.

Who has these laws? It is easier to list the states that do not have Equine Activity Statutes than those that do. There are only six: Alaska, California, Maryland, Nevada, New York, and Pennsylvania. If you are in any other state, then you have a statute. Whether the statute will benefit you in the event of an accident involving a horse depends upon two things: (1) whether you have taken any steps that are required by your particular state to bring yourself within the protection of the statute, and (2) how the courts in your state will interpret the law—broadly or narrowly.

What action is required of you. As to the first, most of the states require the horse provider, stable, camp, show sponsor or riding instructor to post signs notifying the public of the existence of the law, to place in all contracts/releases language notifying the signers of the laws, or both to post notices and include language in contracts/releases. The exact language, even to the size and color of the lettering, differs from state to state, so you must consult the law in your state to determine what action is required of you. More later on how you can do that. If you don’t take the action required to come within the law, then you might as well be doing business in one of the six states without a law.

What these statutes are intended to do. I explained the purposes of these statutes in the 1995 article as "to more clearly define the duties of horsemen to the public and to tip the scales of justice in favor of the horseman" in the event of an accident. I also explained how they might operate to prevent the filing of doubtful lawsuits:

If an injured person contacts a lawyer about suing, that attorney will want to know three things: (1) how serious (expensive) is the injury, (2) how clear is the liability of the other person for the injury, and (3) is there a source of money to pay the judgment if the lawsuit is brought and won. An equine activity statute can tip the scales in (2) in a close case and cause a lawyer not to bring a suit that otherwise would be filed, because if the lawyer loses on (2) not only does he not receive his fees, but his office may lose many dollars in time and out-of-pocket expenses in bringing the suit.

Who and what is covered by these statutes? The statutes provide protection (1) for specified persons or organizations (2) while engaged in an equine activity (3) from liability for an injury resulting from an inherent risk of that activity. Courts are beginning to give meaning to each of those features of the statutes.

What persons or organizations are protected? Most statutes provide protections for "an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional or any other person… resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities." Statutes usually define an equine sponsor as "an individual, group, club, partnership, or corporation, whether or not the sponsor is operating for profit or nonprofit, which sponsors, organizes, or provides the facilities for an equine activity, including, but not limited to: a pony club; 4-H club; hunt club; riding club; school and college sponsored class, program, and activity; therapeutic riding program…." An equine professional is usually defined as "a person engaged for compensation in any of the following: (a) Instructing a participant or renting to a participant an equine for the purpose of riding, driving, or being a passenger upon the equine. (b) Renting equipment or tack to a participant. (c) Examining or administering medical treatment to an equine as a veterinarian." Who is "any other person?" In an Louisiana case, Gautreau v. Washington, 672 So.2d 262 (La.App. 1996), Ms. Gautreau was injured when she was kicked by Mr. Washington’s horse while they were waiting to enter the show grounds arena. Mr. Washington’s horse kicked Ms. Gautreau when he was brushed against by another horse exiting the arena. The Louisiana Court of Appeals held that Mr. Washington qualified for protection under the statute as "any other person." The Court of Appeals found that covering show participants furthered the purpose of enacting the statute:

The legislature clearly envisioned that this immunity would be provided not only to equine professionals and equine sponsors but also other persons. In order to continue to encourage equine activities, the legislature apparently recognized the need to limit the potential liability resulting from the inherent risks associated with equine activities.

Certainly, if anyone is aware of the inherent risks involved in equine activities, it would be those participants who actually work with an equine on a regular basis. Clearly, if this privilege of immunity is not extended to participants, then participants would undoubtedly be reluctant to continue to participate in equine activities. It would be absurd to believe that the legislature intended to encourage the continuance of equine activities without extending this privilege of immunity to participants.

672 So.2d at 265-66.

What is an equine activity? For the protections of the statute to apply, the injury must have resulted from an equine activity. Statutes define what is an "equine activity." For example, the Illinois statute provides the following definition:

"(c) 'Equine activity' means:

(1) 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, 3 day events, combined training, rodeos, driving, pulling, cutting, polo, steeplechasing, English and western performance riding, endurance trail riding and western games, and hunting.

(2) Equine training activities, teaching activities, or both.

(3) Boarding equines.

(4) Riding, inspecting, or evaluating an equine belonging to another, whether or not the owner has received some 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.

(5) Rides, trips, hunts, or other equine activities of any type however informal or impromptu that are sponsored by an equine activity sponsor.

(6) Placing or replacing horseshoes on an equine."

While that listing seems comprehensive, it is not. In Carl v. Resnick, ___ N.E.2d ___ (Ill.App. 1999), the plaintiff Carl was riding her own horse on a public trail when she came upon the defendant and a companion riding in the opposite direction. They stopped to talk. While they were mounted and talking, the defendant’s horse kicked out and struck the plaintiff on the leg, seriously injuring her. When sued, the defendant claimed protection of the Illinois Equine Activity Statute, but the Court of Appeals held that the recreational riding of one’s own horse on a public trail was not included as an equine activity under the statute—the legislature did not intend to encourage that particular activity by enacting the statute. By contrast, the Georgia Court of Appeals in Muller v. English, 472 S.E.2d 448 (Ga.App. 1996) held that riding one’s own horse in a hunt was an equine activity because hunting is specifically listed as such an activity.

Are horse sales equine activities? In Keller v. Merrick, ___ P.2d ___ (Wyo. 1998), the Kellers purchased a horse for their child from defendant Merrick. The first time the child got on the horse it ran away with the child, seriously injuring him. The Kellers sued claiming that Merrick had breached a warranty of gentleness that he had made about the horse. While the trial court ruled in favor of the defendant under the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that a horse sale warranty does not come within the scope of the statute:

In Halpern [v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562 (Wyo. 1995)], we analyzed the plain language of this statute and determined that the legislature intended to limit the duty which a provider owes to a participant in conducting a recreational opportunity. Kellers' complaint is clear that it asserts causes of action based upon representations made and relied upon for the sale of the horse. Although the Act's definition of an equine activity extends to injuries received while evaluating the horse in contemplation of a sale, it plainly does not extend to a breach of warranty action arising from the sale and, therefore, does not apply to these facts…. This statute should not be read to apply its immunity to actions other than negligence, and a cause of action based on a theory of breach of warranty is, therefore, unaffected by this statute…. We hold that the act does not apply to a cause of action based upon a sale and is not a bar to Kellers' suit based upon injuries arising from the sale of the horse.

Obtaining the protection of your statute. Most states require that the equine sponsor or professional must either post specified notices in particular places, place specified language in contracts or releases or do both in order to obtain the protection of the statutes. You can find out exactly what is required of you by looking for your state’s statute in the Equine Activity Statutes segment of the AAHS web site. All 44 statutes are there in full and available for downloading.

Next time. What is an inherent risk of a engaging in an equine activity?


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