Liability: Oh what fear you strike in the horseman's heart!

Liability: one of the greatest fears of barn or horse owners that they will be sued for an injury  caused  by their horse, or  that occurs on their property, and will then incur hundreds or thousands of dollars of costs in court or in a settlement (clearly, my own definition)

Bruce Lauritzen, "Horsefly." Oil on Canvas, 24" x 24"
For the rest of my photos of the "Equitation" Art Exhibit, click here for the Facebook album.



I started this blog as a place to collect information for my equine legal research project.  In my efforts to always expand my legal knowledge, I continue to mull over oddities and conflicts in the law (and trust me, there are many!).

I recently stumbled upon an interesting intersection of laws, so I wanted to write them out here to try to explain to my readers, and to myself, how they all connect.

Please note this post is NOT meant to provide a comprehensive list of every defense or cause of action available for horse participant injuries; these are a select few that I find both interesting and correlating. 
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46 US states have Equine Activity Liability Acts (EALA), which limit the civil liability of a horse owner/ land owner/ show sponsor for damages incurred by an injured party, if the injuries arises from an "inherent risk" of the equine activity. (Click here for a map of state EALAs)

Defendant's defense when no state EALA:
For the 4 states that do not have an EALA, including California, liability can be limited by:

1. Having a participant sign a valid Waiver of Liability, and thereby acknowledge the risks involved in horse participation.

2. The theory of Assumption of Risk: if a Waiver of Liability was not signed, or if it is invalid, then a horse owner/ sponsor/ etc. can claim that by participating in riding or other such equine activity, the injured person knowingly Assumed the Risk of the dangers of riding.

3. Recreational Land Use Statutes: these are state-specific, but in California Civil Code Section 846, merely permitting riders onto your land, without specifically inviting them or charging them a fee to ride on your land, does not give rise to a duty to warn of dangers on the property

Plaintiff's Causes of Action
If the state does have an EALA, the Plaintiff would first argue that it should not apply to his or her particular situation (because of willful, wanton behavior, not an inherent risk to the horse activity, etc.).  And if the Recreational Land Use Statute is inapplicable for the situation, and the injured party did not sign a Waiver or Release (or it is invalid under the circumstances), the party may bring suit under:

1. Animal Control Act: this would be used most likely in a non-riding situation, but perhaps if a bystander is bitten or kicked by a horse at a facility.  For example, in Illinois the law is that:

"If a dog or other animal, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is peaceably conducting himself in any place where he may lawfully be, the owner of such dog or other animal is liable in damages to such person for the full amount of the injury sustained."

2. Domestic Animals Running at Large Act: again citing to Illinois as an example, if a horse is not kept restrained in a reasonable or necessary manner and becomes loose and injures someone, then the owner or custodian of the horse is liable for those damages to a person or property.

I always look closely at state EALA statutes, particularly because California is one of the rare states that has chosen thus far not to enact one.  There are pros and cons to EALAs, which I will discuss in a blog post at a later date.
It is intriguing to me that there are so many different avenues to bring suit or a defense when a person has been injured by a horse.
Does your state have an Equine Activity Liability Act?
If so, do you pay it any attention?