University of Vermont AAHS

Strauss v. Stoneledge Farms


New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division
256 A.D.2d 1186, 684 N.Y.S.2d 387
December 31, 1998


Summary of Opinion


Plaintiff Strauss's horse was injured while being boarded at defendant's farm.  She sued for the injury but the defendant claimed that a release from liability precluded the suit.  Plaintiff argued that the release did not cover this situation and in any event was void, but the Appellate Division held that the release was valid.  It affirmed the action of the trial court in refusing to invalidate the release.

Text of Opinion

Plaintiff and defendant entered into an agreement pursuant to which defendant would board plaintiff's horses for a fee. One of plaintiff's horses was injured on defendant's property when it stepped into a coil of fence wire. Plaintiff moved to dismiss certain affirmative defenses and for summary judgment dismissing other affirmative defenses and a counterclaim. Supreme Court properly denied plaintiff's motion.

Plaintiff argues that defendant's counterclaim and eighth and ninth affirmative defenses should be dismissed because they are based on an agreement between the parties that did not relieve defendant from its own acts of negligence. Where, as here, parties have negotiated an exculpatory agreement at arm's length, a party will not be liable for its own negligence even if the exculpatory agreement is drawn in broad and sweeping language (see, Gross v. Sweet, 49 N.Y.2d 102, 108; Hogeland v Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Co., 42 N.Y.2d 153, 158 159, 161; Niagara Frontier Transp. Auth. v Tri Delta Constr. Corp., 107 A.D.2d 450, 451 452, affd 65 N.Y.2d 1038). The indemnification clause in the parties' agreement evinced the intent that plaintiff was to look solely to his own insurance for any injuries to his horse. Because that intent may be inferred from the entire agreement, it is of no consequence that the agreement did not refer expressly to any negligence of the parties (see, Gross v. Sweet, supra, at 108; Margolin v. New York Life Ins. Co., 32 N.Y.2d 149, 153; Reeves v. Welch, 127 A.D.2d 1000, 1001). The court therefore properly denied that part of plaintiff's motion seeking to dismiss the eighth and ninth affirmative defenses and counterclaim.

We reject plaintiff's further contention that General Obligations Law 5  326 applies to void the agreement. Defendant's place of business was not open to the public. The boarding fee that plaintiff paid to defendant is not analogous to a user fee for a recreational facility as contemplated by the statute (see, Baschuk v. Diver's Way Scuba, 209 A.D.2d 369, 370).

The court properly refused to dismiss the sixth and seventh affirmative defenses, challenging the imposition of punitive damages, and the 10th affirmative defense, asserting the failure to state a cause of action.

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