University of Vermont AAHS

Morgan v. Jamaica Bay Riding Academy

New York Supreme Court Appellate Term
2004 WL 415277
February 5, 2004

Summary of Opinion

Plaintiff Morgan, age 13, was injured while mounted during a riding lesson.  In this opinion, the appellate court says there was enough question whether she had sufficient knowledge of the danger she was encountering to have assumed the risk of injury.  Further, her concerns about the condition of her horse may have been eliminated by coercion from her instructor.

Text of Opinion

 Appeal by plaintiffs from an order of the Civil Court, Kings County (P. Sweeney, J.), entered December 16, 2002, denying their motion to vacate their default in failing to appear for trial thereby rendering academic defendants' cross-motions for summary judgment.

 Order unanimously reversed without costs, plaintiffs' motion to vacate their default and restore the action to the trial calendar granted and defendants' cross motions for summary judgment denied.

 For the reasons set forth below, we find that plaintiffs' motion to vacate their default should have been granted, as they demonstrated excusable default and a meritorious cause of action. Furthermore, the defendants' cross motions for summary judgment should be denied, as defendants' evidence did not establish as a matter of law their contention that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk should bar this action (see Winegrad v. New York Univ. Med. Center, 64 N.Y.2d 851 [1985] ).

 "By engaging in a sport or recreational activity, a participant consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation" (Morcian v. State of New York, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 484 [19971, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421, 685 N.E.2d 202; see generally Turcotte v. Fell, 68 N.Y.2d 432 [1986] ), including, in the case of horseback riding (the activity in which the injured plaintiff was engaged at the time of her accident), the consequences of dealing with a powerful and unpredictable living creature, as the court below noted (see e.g. Norkus v. Scolaro, 267 A.D.2d 666 [1999]; Becker v. Pleasant Valley Farms, 261 A.D.2d 427 [1999] ). A participant in such an activity does not assume risks that are unreasonably increased (Morgan, 90 N.Y.2d at 485, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421, 685 N.E.2d 202; Millan v. Brown, 295 A.D.2d 409 [2002] ), or that are not inherent in the nature of the sport involved (see e.g. Clark v. State of New York, 245 A.D.2d 413 [1997] ).

 While there is evidence in the record that plaintiff Christine Morgan interpreted the behavior of the horse she was riding at the time of her accident as indicating that he was excited or energetic, there is no evidence on which to conclude that she had the knowledge and experience required to properly evaluate and consent to the resulting risk (see Maddox v. City of New York, 66 N.Y.2d 270, 278 [1985]; Morella v. Fletcher Farm, 288 A.D.2d 447 [2001]; cf. Wendt v. Jacus, 288 A.D.2d 889 [2001] ). Christine testified at her deposition that she asked the advice of her instructor, defendant Bridget Imparato about the horse's behavior both upon her arrival at the arena and after a prior fall during her lesson. On both occasions, Imparato indicated that this was not a matter for concern. In the circumstances testified to by the parties, there are issues as to whether this 13-year-old child was in a position to refuse to consent to risks in the face of instructions from a responsible and experienced adult (see e.g. Benitez v. New York City Bd. of Ed., 73 N.Y.2d 650, 658‑659 [1989] ); whether Imparato's instructions and comments constituted enough of an "assurance of safety" to vitiate any possible assumption of the risk of injury through the horse's subsequent behavior (Verduce v. Bd. of Higher Ed. in the City of New York, 9 A.D.2d 214, 216 [1959] [Rabin, J., dissenting], revd on dissent below, 8 N.Y.2d 928 [1960] ); and whether, in light of the propensities the horse showed on the day of the accident and Imparato's knowledge of Christine's difficulties maintaining a proper seat on a horse, there was inadequate supervision of Christine's lesson (see Havens v. Kling, 277 A.D.2d 1017 [2000] ).

 We do not pass upon the issue of the admissibility of the alleged statement by a third party that the horse was wearing the wrong bridle at the time of the accident. This question is properly left to the trial court for resolution when and if the statement is offered.

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