University of Vermont AAHS

Hoobler v. Devan


Ohio Court of Appeals
January 7, 1994


Summary of Opinion

The plaintiff, Lori Hoobler, was 16 years of age. She was interested in purchasing a horse owned and advertised by the defendant, Mr. Devan. Mr. Devan tacked up the horse and rode it briefly. Ms. Hoobler noticed that the horse was tossing its head a great deal. Mr. Devan then encouraged Ms. Hoobler to ride the horse, which she did. The horse was spooked by an approaching car and threw Ms. Hoobler, injuring her.

The trial jury awarded $80,000 in damages, but found that Ms. Hoobler was 45 percent at fault, which reduced the award to $44,440. Mr. Devan appealed.

The Ohio Court of Appeals considered the argument that Ms. Hoobler could not recover damages from Mr. Devan because there was no evidence that this horse had a propensity for spooking or bucking off its rider. But the Court of Appeals found that there was expert testimony that when a horse tosses its head the way this horse did, that should signal the handler that the horse is uncomfortable and the cause of the discomfort should be determined without further riding. Mr. Devan was negligent in not picking up on this signal and acting accordingly.

Text of Opinion

On October 2, 1987, Lori Ann Hoobler, age 16 years, who had been involved in riding ponies and horses since the age of 6 or 7 years, was interested in purchasing a registered quarter horse. She observed an advertisement in the Farm and Dairy News which read as follows: " 'Two AQHA geldings, outstanding youth and amateur, English and Western projects, shown open and 4-H, super flashy; double registered paint mare by Superior Champion, kid-broke; other trail and 4-H prospects, Leetonia, Ohio, (216) 427- 2125, (216) 755-5464.' "

In response to this advertisement, Lori Hoobler and her father, went to the home of the defendant, George Devan, on the evening of October 27, 1987. She and her father were accompanied by her brother and a neighbor named Robert Evans. Mr. Devan showed them a quarter horse named Mister T Poco. He saddled the horse up and rode it himself for a few minutes on the slag driveway in front of his garage. Lori Hoobler testified that while Mr. Devan was riding the horse "the horse seemed to be throwing his head a little bit but I really-- I didn't think there was a problem" Mr. Devan then dismounted and encouraged Lori to get on and ride the horse. She rode the horse down a gravel driveway and, as she approached the public street, she saw lights approaching from a distance and stopped the horse. She was concerned that a passing vehicle might upset the horse. Without any warning, the horse suddenly reared and began bucking and headed across the Devan lawn towards the barn. The horse was bucking with all four hooves off the ground and dragged Lori through the branches of a large tree and then, as it got onto the driveway, the horse finally succeeded in throwing Lori. She landed on the slag surface of the driveway, suffering severe injuries to her left knee. Her total medical bills, as a result of this injury, were nearly $25,000.00.

The jury returned a general verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. It assessed total damages at $80,800.00 and found the minor plaintiff forty-five percent (45%) comparatively negligent, resulting in the net judgment for plaintiffs in the sum of $44,440.00.

The appellant argues that the trial judge erred when he failed to grant defendant's motion for a directed verdict at the conclusion of the trial because the plaintiffs had failed to present any evidence that the defendant horse owner had knowledge of some trait, condition or propensity of his horse from which a probability of the horse's bucking may reasonably have been inferred.

The appellant relies on the case of Troop A Riding Academy v. Miller (1934), 127 Ohio St. 545, where the Supreme Court held: "In order to recover for injuries received when a horse hired for riding runs and falls, one who sues in tort must show knowledge, on the part of the owner or his agents, of some trait, condition or propensity from which a probability of the horse's running away or falling might reasonably be inferred."

That case goes on to hold further: "When there is no evidence of any known trait, condition or propensity of the horse, which would subject the rider to greater risks than ordinarily attach to horseback riding, it is error for the trial judge to submit such case to the jury. * * *."

In our previous reversal of this case, we stated: "The central issue in this case is not related to the propensities of the horse involved but rather the conduct of the defendant when the plaintiff was riding the horse."

As we previously stated, Lori Hoobler testified, that prior to her riding the horse and while Mr. Devan was riding the horse, the horse seemed to be throwing his head a little bit.

The plaintiffs read to the jury the deposition of Bryan Clarkson, a professional horse trainer, who had followed that profession for ten years at the time of the deposition. As a part of this deposition, the following dialogue took place:

"Question: * * * Have you ever seen a horse toss its head while it was being ridden?

"Answer: Yes.

"Question: Does that indicate anything to you normally?

"Answer: Uh-huh.

"Question: What would that indicate?

"Answer: They are uncomfortable somewhere.

"Question: Okay. And when you see a horse tossing its head and realizing that it's uncomfortable, do you attempt to find out what the problem is?

"Answer: Yes.

"Question: That would be a safe--that would be the safe thing to do in your opinion?

"Answer: Yes."

"Question: In your particular case, with your knowledge of horses and a number of years you have been around horses, if the horse was tossing its head with somebody else on it, you wouldn't let that person continue to ride without at least checking to try to find out what was bothering the horse; is that correct?

"Answer: That's correct."

Thus, there was testimony by the plaintiffs' witness, Bryan Clarkson, that the defendant should have known that something was wrong with the horse prior to accident happening.

The testimony of Mr. Clarkson, the expert, certainly raises some evidence as to negligence on the part of the defendant.

The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

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