University of Vermont AAHS


Carl v. Resnick


Illinois Appellate Court
306 Ill.App.3d 453, 714 N.E.2d 1, 239 Ill.Dec. 443
March 31, 1999


Summary of Opinion

Plaintiff Carl was riding her horse on a public trail when she came upon defendant Resnick riding her horse and a companion, Kathy Paddock, riding another horse of Resnick’s.  While the three were mounted and talking, Paddock’s horse kicked out and struck plaintiff, seriously injuring her leg.

Carl sued on grounds of the Illinois Animal Control Act.  The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant on the Illinois Equine Activity Act and denied summary judgment to plaintiff on the Animal Control Act.  The Court of Appeal reversed.  It found that plaintiff was not engaging in an equine activity within the meaning of the Equine Activity Act.  It also found the case to be covered by the Animal Control Act.  Therefore, it granted summary judgment to the plaintiff on the Animal Control Act claim, remanding the case for assessment of damages.

Text of Opinion

 On November 19, 1995, plaintiff Judy Carl was riding her horse on a trail in the Cook County Forest Preserve.  Defendant Shelly Resnick and her friend, Kathy Paddock, both on horses owned by defendant, were riding in the opposite direction.  All three riders stopped to talk when they passed along the trail.  At some point, the horse upon which Paddock was riding pinned its ears back, turned its body toward plaintiff's horse, and kicked plaintiff and her horse.  One hoof struck plaintiff's leg, causing her injury.

 On February 13, 1997, plaintiff filed her first amended complaint alleging both a violation of the Animal Control Act (510 ILCS 5/16 (West 1995)) and negligence.  Both parties filed motions for summary judgement.  The trial court denied plaintiff's motion for summary judgement on the Animal Control Act count and granted defendant's motion for summary judgement, based upon the Equine Activity Liability Act (Equine Act) (745 ILCS 47/1 et seq.   (West 1995)) on both counts.  Plaintiff now appeals.

 Since the trial court found both counts of plaintiff's complaint barred by the Equine Act, we will first address the applicability of that Act to the instant cause of action.  We recognize this is an issue of first impression, no Illinois court having interpreted the Equine Act since it became effective on July 7, 1995.  Section 5 of the Equine Act sets forth the Act's purposes:

 The "equine activities" sought to be "encourage[d]" are enumerated in section 10(c) of the Act:

  The Equine Act encourages these "equine activities" by providing an assumption of risk defense to defendants sued by plaintiffs injured while engaging in one of the above listed activities.  Section 15 sets forth this defense:

 In her motion for summary judgement, defendant did not argue that plaintiff was engaged in one of the six categories of activities listed in section 10(c) of the Equine Act at the time of her injury.  Rather, she argued plaintiff was "engage[d] in an equine activity" as defined in section 10(a).  Compare 745 ILCS 47/10(a) (West 1995) (defining "Engages in an equine activity") with 745 ILCS 47/10(c) (West 1995) (defining "Equine activity").  Section 10(a) defines "engages in equine activity" as "riding, training, assisting in medical treatment of, driving, or being a passenger upon an equine, whether mounted or unmounted, or assisting a participant."  745 ILCS 47/10(a) (West 1995).  It is true, as defendant asserts, that plaintiff falls within this definition, inasmuch as plaintiff was "riding * * * an equine" when she was injured. Nevertheless, we believe that section 10(a) was clearly intended to be read in conjunction with section 10(c)  only those "riding * * * an equine" (745 ILCS 47/10(a)) while participating in one of the six statutory categories of activities (745 ILCS 47/10(c)) assume the risk of their injuries.  Thus, in the present case plaintiff's complaint against defendant was not barred by the Equine Act unless plaintiff's recreational riding of her own horse on a public trail was one of the limited activities sought to be encouraged by the Act.

 In her brief on appeal, defendant discusses only one of the categories of activities enumerated in section 10(c):  "[r]iding, inspecting, or evaluating an equine belonging to another * * *."  See 745 ILCS 47/10(c)(4) (West 1995).  We fail to see how the activity in which plaintiff was engaged prior to her injury in the instant case falls within this description.  While defendant's companion, Kathy Paddock, may have been "riding * * * an equine belonging to another" (745 ILCS 47/10(c)(4)) at the time of the incident (she was riding a horse owned by defendant), plaintiff was undisputedly riding her own horse at the time of her injury.

 Section 10(c)(4) illustrates why we must reject defendant's assertion that the Equine Act was intended to bar any cause of action brought by a plaintiff injured while "riding * * * an equine" as defined in section 10(a).  Such a broad interpretation of the Equine Act would render section 10 internally inconsistent.  As previously mentioned, section 10(c)(4) bars only those causes of action brought by plaintiffs injured while "riding * * * an equine belonging to another * * *."  745 ILCS 47/10(c)(4) (West 1995) (Emphasis added). Similarly, section 10(c)(5) permits the assumption of risk defense to be raised against a plaintiff injured while riding an equine, but only in the event that the ride was "sponsored by an equine activity sponsor."  See 745 ILCS 47/10(c)(5) (West 1995) (equine activities include "[r]ides, trips, hunts, or other equine activities of any type however informal or impromptu that are sponsored by an equine activity sponsor ") (Emphasis added);  see also 745 ILCS 47/10(d) (West 1995) (defining "equine activity sponsor").  Only by ignoring these two provisions could we adopt the expansive interpretation of the Equine Act urged by defendant.

  Our Equine Act is very similar to other "Equine Activity Liability Acts" (EALAs) which have been enacted in many states.  See generally McEvoy, The Rise of Equine Activity Liability Acts, 3 Animal L. 201 (1997); Centner, The New Equine Liability Statutes, 62 Tenn. L.Rev. 997 (1995); Carmel, The Equine Activity Liability Acts, 83 Ky. L.J. 157 (1994 95).  The vast majority of these EALAs would not apply to the recreational riding at issue here.  See 83 Ky. L.J. at 177 (noting only a small number of states have EALAs which encompass recreational horseback riding).  Had our Legislature intended to give our Equine Act such a broad reach, it could have easily done so.  North Carolina's EALA defines "equine activity" as "any activity involving an equine."  N.C. Gen.Stat. 99E 1(3) (1997).  In Arkansas, "equine activity" includes "[r]ides, hunts, or other equine activities of any type, however informal or impromptu" (Ark.Code Ann. 16 120 201(2)(E) (Michie 1997);  see also Wyo. Stat. Ann. 1 1 122(a)(4)(F) (Michie 1998)), while Vermont's EALA is even more succinct (see Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, 1039(a)(2)(C) (1996) ("equine activity" includes "[r]ides, trips, or hunts")). See also Wis. Stat. Ann. 895.481 (West 1998) ("equine activity" includes "[r]iding, training or driving an equine or being a passenger on an equine"); Conn. Gen.Stat. 52 557p (1997) ("Each person engaged in recreational equestrian activities shall assume the risk and legal responsibility for any injury * * * ").  In the two cases we have found where plaintiffs were kicked by horses ridden by others and brought suit under an EALA identical to ours, both plaintiffs were engaged in "equine activities" as defined in section 10(c).  See Gautreau v. Washington, 672 So.2d 262 (La.Ct.App.1996) (plaintiff kicked by another participant's horse during horse show);  Muller v. English, 472 S.E.2d 448 (Ga.Ct.App.1996) (plaintiff kicked by another participant's horse during fox hunt).  In sum, we find that plaintiff in the present case was not engaged in an "equine activity," as defined in our Equine Act, at the time of her injury, and that her complaint, therefore, was not barred by that Act. Since we have found the Equine Act inapplicable to plaintiff, we do not address plaintiff's contention that only "equine activity sponsors" and "equine professionals" (defendant admittedly not being either) are insulated from liability by the Act. But cf.  745 ILCS 47/20(b) (West 1995) (listing exceptions whereby "an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person " can still be held liable under the Act) (Emphasis added);  Gautreau, 672 So.2d at 265 (finding availability of assumption of risk defense in similarly worded Louisiana statute not limited to "equine activity sponsors" and "equine professionals").

 Having found that defendant's motion for summary judgement was erroneously granted, we next turn to plaintiff's argument that her motion for summary judgement on the Animal Control Act count should have been granted.  The Animal Control Act provides, in relevant part:

 Defendant contends it is "obvious" that "[t]he Animal Control Act ceased to apply to equine injury cases on and after July 7, 1995, when the Illinois Legislature enacted the Equine Liability Act." We disagree.  While the Equine Act will undoubtedly bar some actions which, prior to the Equine Act's enactment, would have been permitted under the Animal Control Act (i.e., those in which the plaintiff was engaged in an "equine activity" at the time an injury contemplated by the Equine Act occurred), that does not render the Animal Control Act inapplicable to every equine injury case.  As one commentator has noted about EALAs and their relationship to pre existing law:

 Thus, it follows that the Animal Control Act remains applicable in equine injury cases not governed by the Equine Act. Where there is an alleged conflict between two legislative enactments, we must construe those statutes in a manner which avoids an inconsistency and gives effect to both enactments, where such a construction is reasonably possible.  Lily Lake Road Defenders v. County of McHenry, 156 Ill.2d 1, 9, 619 N.E.2d 137 (1993).

 Having found the Animal Control Act not preempted by the Equine Act on the facts now before us, we turn to the merits of plaintiff's Animal Control Act count.  Defendant argues plaintiff assumed the risk of her injury, suggesting Clark v. Rogers, 137 Ill.App.3d 591, 484 N.E.2d 867 (1985), is dispositive. In Clark, the plaintiff agreed to help the defendant Rogers train stallions for horseshows.  The plaintiff was thrown from one of Rogers' stallions and injured.  The Clark court held that the plaintiff had assumed the risk of such injuries when she accepted employment with Rogers.  Clark, 137 Ill.App.3d at 594.

 Clark, in our opinion, is not dispositive.  Essential to the court's holding in Clark was the employer employee relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant:

 Such a relationship is entirely absent here.  Plaintiff appears to have had no prior relationship with either defendant or Paddock;  the record suggests plaintiff met both women for the first time on the trail the day of the accident.

 Plaintiff argues that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk has no application outside employment and other contractual settings.  We note that cases interpreting the Animal Control Act appear to be inconsistent on this issue.  Compare Harris v. Walker, 119 Ill.2d 542, 547 48, 519 N.E.2d 917 (1988) (plaintiff who fell off horse rented from defendant and who had signed exculpatory agreement found to have no cause of action under the Animal Control Act) and Guthrie v. Zielinski, 185 Ill.App.3d 266, 272, 541 N.E.2d 178 (1989) (finding doctrine of assumption of risk inapplicable to plaintiff injured by her parents' dog in parents' house, since there was no evidence of a contractual or employment relationship between the parties) and Vanderlei v. Heideman, 83 Ill.App.3d 158, 162 63, 403 N.E.2d 756 (1980) (plaintiff assumed risk of getting kicked by a horse when he agreed to work as horseshoer) with Ennen v. White, 232 Ill.App.3d 1061, 1066, 598 N.E.2d 416 (1992) (no cause of action under Animal Control Act for a plaintiff who was thrown from a friend's horse and injured) and Malott v. Hart, 167 Ill.App.3d 209, 211, 521 N.E.2d 137 (1988) (plaintiff, an experienced cattleman, assumed risk of being trampled when he volunteered to help neighbor round up a herd of cattle).

 We believe these cases can be reconciled by examining not the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant in each case but rather the relationship between the plaintiff and the injury causing animal.  In all of these cases, the plaintiff can be viewed as having taken control or custody of the animal prior to being injured, thereby making the plaintiff an "owner" of the animal under the Animal Control Act. As an "owner," the plaintiff would then no longer be a member of the class of persons protected by the Act, and the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant becomes irrelevant.

 This analysis was first applied in Wilcoxen v. Paige, 174 Ill.App.3d 541, 528 N.E.2d 1104 (1988).  In Wilcoxen, the plaintiff operated a dog boarding and grooming business.  While under the plaintiff's control and care, the defendant's dog attacked and seriously injured the plaintiff.  When sued by the plaintiff under the Animal Control Act, the defendant argued that the plaintiff, by accepting care and control over the defendant's dog, had become an "owner" of the dog and was, therefore, precluded from bringing suit. Wilcoxen, 174 Ill.App.3d at 542.

 The appellate court in Wilcoxen agreed.  The court looked to section 2.16 of the Animal Control Act, which defines "owner":

 By voluntarily accepting responsibility for controlling the defendant's dog, the plaintiff, according to the Wilcoxen court, placed herself within the definition of an "owner" under the Animal Control Act and, therefore, could not recover from the dog's legal owner.  Wilcoxen, 174 Ill.App.3d at 543.

 This court applied the same analysis in Hassell v. Wenglinski, 243 Ill.App.3d 398, 612 N.E.2d 64 (1993).  In Hassell, the plaintiff was employed to care for the defendant's mother in the defendant's home.  One day, as a favor to the defendant, the plaintiff agreed to walk the defendant's dogs.  While walking the dogs, plaintiff tripped and fell after being yanked forward by the dogs.  The Hassell court focused on the relationship between the plaintiff and the dogs in framing the issue:  "whether a person having control over an animal may maintain a cause of action under the Animal Control Act against the animal's legal owner for injuries sustained while the person has such control."  Hassell, 243 Ill.App.3d at 399.

 The court began by discussing older cases which focused on the contractual or employment relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant (e.g., Harris, 119 Ill.2d 542 (plaintiff rented horse from defendant), Clark, 137 Ill.App.3d 591 (defendant employed plaintiff), Vanderlei, 83 Ill.App.3d 158 (plaintiff employed as horseshoer)).  Hassell, 243 Ill.App.3d at 400 1. The Hassell court then noted the shift in focus which occurred in Wilcoxen  despite a contractual relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant in that case, the Wilcoxen court emphasized that the plaintiff's relationship with the defendant's dog made her an "owner" under, and therefore unprotected by, the Animal Control Act. Hassell, 243 Ill.App.3d at 401; Wilcoxen, 174 Ill.App.3d at 543;  see also Eyrich v. Johnson, 279 Ill.App.3d 1067, 1070 71, 665 N.E.2d 878 (1996) (where farmhand sued employer after he was bitten by a boar owned by employer but under farmhand's care, summary judgement in employer's favor properly granted since farmhand was an "owner" under the Act and therefore "clearly not the type of plaintiff that the legislature intended to protect * * * ").

 Unlike the situation in Wilcoxen, there was no contractual relationship in  Hassell between the plaintiff and the defendant involving the animal which caused the plaintiff's injuries.  Nevertheless, the Hassell court refused to limit Wilcoxen 's "owner" analysis to employment or contractual settings:

 Thus, a plaintiff who assumes the role of an "owner" under the Animal Control Act loses the protections afforded by that Act regardless of any relationship to the defendant.  See Docherty v. Sadler, 293 Ill.App.3d 892, 897, 689 N.E.2d 332 (1997) (refusing to apply assumption of risk analysis to minor plaintiff who was taking care of defendant's dog at the time of his injury, since plaintiff was clearly an "owner" of dog under Animal Control Act); Meyer v. Naperville Manner, Inc., 262 Ill.App.3d 141, 149, 634 N.E.2d 411 (1994) ("While we recognize that the assumption of risk is a strong underlying theme in [earlier decisions] (as expressed particularly in Harris ), it is evident that the plaintiffs were also not held in the class of persons protected by the Act because * * * one who voluntarily assumes control of the animal places himself in the position of the owner").

 In any event, plaintiff would not lose the protections of the Animal Control Act under either framework of analysis.  Plaintiff had neither the relationship with defendant ("assumption of risk" analysis) nor the relationship with the animal that injured her ("owner" analysis) necessary to justify judgement in defendant's favor under the Animal Control Act. As earlier mentioned, plaintiff had no prior relationship with defendant, contractual or otherwise, which could have given rise to assumption of risk.  And as plaintiff never exercised care, control, or custody of Paddock's horse prior to being kicked by it, plaintiff in no way falls within the definition of an "owner" under section 2.16.  See 510 ILCS 5/2.16 (West 1995).

 Having found no basis for granting summary judgement in defendant's favor on the Animal Control Act count, we next examine whether plaintiff's motion for summary judgement under that Act should have been granted.  Summary judgment should be granted when the pleadings, depositions, and admissions, together with any affidavits, show there is no genuine issue as to a material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Meyer, 262 Ill.App.3d at 150.  We review de novo the trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgement.  Eyrich, 279 Ill.App.3d at 1069.

 As previously stated, in order to prevail under section 16 of the Animal Control Act, a plaintiff must prove four things:  (1) an injury caused by an animal owned by the defendant;  (2) lack of provocation;  (3) the peaceable conduct of the injured person;  and (4) the presence of the injured person in a place where he has a legal right to be.  Eyrich, 279 Ill.App.3d at 1069  70;  Meyer, 262 Ill.App.3d at 147.  Defendant, relying on Wilcoxen, 174 Ill.App.3d 541, argues that Kathy Paddock, having assumed control over the horse which kicked plaintiff, was the "owner" of that horse for purposes of liability under the Animal Control Act. We agree, but we fail to see how Paddock's status as an "owner" relieves defendant of liability under the Act.

  Defendant's assertions to the contrary, the Wilcoxen court did not hold that at any given time there can be only one "owner" of an animal for liability purposes under the Animal Control Act. In fact, it appears the court was operating with the opposite assumption in mind  that multiple individuals can be "owners" of an animal.  The Wilcoxen court noted the defendant's position that the plaintiff could not bring suit since "at the time of her alleged injuries she too was an 'owner' of the dog * * *."  Wilcoxen, 174 Ill.App.3d at 542 (Emphasis added).  Moreover, the court interpreted section 2.16 as authorizing joint liability  "the Act imposes penalties against not only an animal's legal owner, but also against anyone who places himself in a position of control akin to an owner."  Wilcoxen, 174 Ill.App.3d at 543 (Emphasis added).  Nothing in Wilcoxen suggests that, had a third party been injured by the defendant's dog while in the plaintiff's care, he could not have sued both the defendant and the plaintiff as "owners" under the Animal Control Act. Thus, in the present case, defendant, as legal owner of the horse which kicked plaintiff, remained liable for plaintiff's injuries despite Paddock's simultaneous status as an "owner."  See Frost v. Robave, Inc., 296 Ill.App.3d 528, 694 N.E.2d 581, 585 (1998) (" 'Where the keeper is not the owner, it may be assumed, as a general proposition, that the dominion or authority of the keeper over the dog is a limited one, subject to be terminated at any time by the owner * * *. The moment [the owner removes the dog from the custody of the keeper], the dual authority * * * is merged in the owner, and at that very moment the keeper's rights and responsibilities concerning the dog are at an end' "), quoting Janssen v. Voss, 189 Wis. 222, 224, 207 N.W. 279, 280 (1926);  Clark, 137 Ill.App.3d at 593 (noting "the keeper of an animal as well as its owner can be held liable under the [Animal Control] Act").

 The only possible factual question which might remain would be whether plaintiff provoked Paddock's horse.  See 510 ILCS 5/16 (West 1995) ("If a dog or other animal, without provocation, attacks or injures any person * * * ").  Plaintiff points to defendant's deposition testimony, where defendant was asked whether plaintiff did anything to provoke Paddock's horse, to which defendant responded, "No." While defendant did suggest numerous things which may have provoked her horse (the smell, color, etc., of plaintiff's horse), all such testimony was purely speculative.  Defendant apparently concedes the issue, not responding to this argument in her appellate brief. Not only does she fail to argue the issue, but she acknowledges in her brief that "[t]he relevant facts in this case are not in dispute."  With such a concession, we have little trouble concluding there was no genuine issue of material fact in this case which could have precluded the trial court from granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgement.  See generally Severson v. Ring, 244 Ill.App.3d 453, 457 58, 615 N.E.2d 1 (1993) (greeting or petting an animal does not generally constitute provocation);  Smith v. Pitchford, 219 Ill.App.3d 152, 154, 579 N.E.2d 24 (1991) (plaintiff's mere presence on private property does not constitute provocation regardless of how the animal may interpret the plaintiff's movements).

  Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's order denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgement and enter summary judgement for plaintiff on Count I as to liability under the Animal Control Act (510 ILCS 5/16 (West 1995)). We also reverse the order granting defendant's motion for summary judgement on Count II. We hold that under the facts of this case, the Equine Activity Liability Act (745 ILCS 47/1 et. seq.  (West 1995)), does not apply.  Count I is remanded for a trial on the issue of damages.  Count II, the negligence count, is remanded for a trial on liability and damages.

 Reversed and remanded with directions.

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