University of Vermont AAHS

Negligence and Foreseeability: "In the Event of an Emergency..."

Jan Dawson
President, AAHS

What do you think of when someone says the word "emergency"? This came up at a recent clinic when we were trying to explain the importance of the idea of "foreseeable accident". The problem arose when we defined negligence as the "failure of a duty owed to a person to prevent a reasonably foreseeable accident". The situation was as follows:

A beginner riding class was in an arena not far from the tacking-up area. The question was raised, "What would happen if a horse spooked in the tacking area and caused a big commotion." All agreed it would have been a problem. If one of the beginners horses spooked and a rider fell off would this have been a reasonably foreseeable accident? Suppose the fallen rider caught her arm in the rein on the way down and the spooked horse stood trembling with the rider's arm caught in the rein. What to do?

The answer should be obvious. The instructor should quietly take the knife she always carries and carefully approach the horse and cut the rein to free the rider. Hopefully this could be done with a little bit of luck. If the instructor is not wearing a knife she has a serious problem. Even if the spooking horse was foreseeable, the rider's arm caught in the rein would have been a surprise. Not unheard of but not expected. The situation constituted an emergency.

An emergency is not an expected occurrence. If it were, steps would be taken to avoid it. An emergency is the unexpected. The thing that happens sometimes, rarely, but still something we know can happen. Riding instructors must be prepared for emergencies, that is those occurrences that we all know are rare but we also know can and do happen. When they do occur, simply saying that we never expected ;that or the classic, "He never did that before." is not sufficient.

We may think of this philosophy as "emergency preparedness". It is the philosophy of planing what you will do when the unexpected, but possible, actually happens. It is planning what you will do on the trail when a horse carrying a student or paying guest runs off or falls. The why it happens is not important because where we cannot predict exactly what set of circumstances will precipitate it we do know that sometime it will happen. We must be prepared "in the event of an emergency". We do not have the first aid kit or the radio because we expect a problem every time out. If we did we should not be going out. We carry these things and make these plans so that we are not caught flat- footed when something goes wrong.

Carrying a jack and a tire tool in the truck does not mean that we expect a flat tire every time we leave home. It simply means that we want to be prepared if it does, and we know that sometime it will.

It is a good idea to go over emergency procedures frequently. Have drills. At the very least, think through the "what if" situations. The number of times we think: "I am sure glad that xxxxxxx didn't happen when xxxxxxxx occurred will give us a good idea of our preparedness.

We must protect our riders on two fronts. First, we must avoid or eliminate the known risks. This can mean on the trail or in the arena. Those are the foreseeable accidents. Second, we must prepare for an emergency. Those are the things that are not always foreseeable. We would be thought to be silly in most parts of the country if we planned our horse activities to accommodate the possible passing of a hot air balloon. However we know that horses are horses and sometimes they do the unexpected. The may bolt or buck when we do not expect it. So we must be prepared in the event of an emergency. At least this way when the hot air balloon does go over, we are reasonable ready for the consequences. We have the medical consent forms for the minors. We know that when we dial 911 we the EMS will be sent to the correct place. the staff person in charge has current First Aid/CPR training. We cannot be expected to be prepared for the rare or odd occurrence, but we can be expected to be prepared "in the event of an emergency."

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