This is an opinion from a trial court. Easterling was injured while receiving riding instruction at English Point Riding Stables. She claimed the accident was the fault of the riding instructor. The stables claimed that Easterling could not sue because (1) she signed a release of liability and (2) a Louisiana statute says the horse provider is not liable in this situation. The stables then asked the trial court to grant a summary judgment in its favor: to declare it the winner without having to stand trial. In this opinion, the trial court explains why it will not do that. As a result of this opinion, the parties will either settle the case or it will be tried.
Plaintiff has filed suit seeking damages for injuries she allegedly suffered as a result of falling from a horse during horse back riding lessons provided to her by defendant, English Point Riding Stables, Inc. Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment contending it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because "La.R.S. 9:2795.1 limits the liability of an equine activity sponsor and because the plaintiff, an attorney, signed a Release and Hold Harmless Agreement pursuant to which the plaintiff assumed the risks inherent in horse back activities."
La.R.S. 9:2795.1(B) provides: "An equine activity sponsor ... shall not be liable for an injury to or the death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities and, except as provided in Subsection C of this Section, no participant ... shall make any claim against, maintain an action against, or recover from an equine activity sponsor ... for injury, loss, damage, or death of the participant resulting from any of the inherent risks of equine activities."
Plaintiff contends, however, that several of the exceptions contained in L.A.R.S. 9:2795.1(C) prevent the defendant from taking advantage of the statute's limitation of liability. Paragraph C provides in pertinent part:
(C) Nothing in Subsection B of this Section shall prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor ... if the equine activity sponsor ... either: (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 it did cause the injury. (2) Failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity and to safely manage the particular equine based on the participant's representations of his ability.... (4) Commits an act or omission that constitutes willful and wanton disregard for the safety of the participant, and that act or omission caused the injury.
After reviewing the memoranda submitted by the parties, the Court finds there are genuine issues of material fact in dispute which preclude summary judgment. For example, one such issue is whether defendant failed to safely manage the particular equine plaintiff was riding ("Tinder") based upon plaintiff's abilities. Denise Jones, the instructor at the time of plaintiff's fall, testified that plaintiff fell because the horse bolted while plaintiff was learning to ride the horse at a trot. Ms. Jones testified that "[t]he possibility existed that a horse coming over the jump hit the jump and that the noise made from that may have startled Tinder." Plaintiff's expert opines that the instructor should not have conducted the lesson "in close proximity to where other horses [were] working when there was a safer area they could have moved to" and should not have "start[ed] to trot the horse on a lunge line under questionable control with a very apprehensive rider, when the instructor could have kept the horse under her immediate control with a short lead line."
In addition, factual questions exist concerning whether the martingale which broke during plaintiff's fall was a faulty piece of tack; if so, whether defendant knew or should have known that the martingale was faulty; and, if so, whether the faulty tack was the cause of plaintiff's injuries. It is undisputed that the martingale was broken during plaintiff's fall, and defendant concedes that the martingale was "well used." Also, Denise Jones testified that she told plaintiff she could use the martingale to "help her stabilize her balance."
Finally, these factual issues pertain to risks not inherent in horse back activities which would, therefore, not have been assumed by plaintiff in the Release and Hold Harmless Agreement she entered with defendant.
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