Accidents involving animals add complexity to the legal issues that arise. Most are familiar with law regarding dog attacks or dog bites, but laws regarding accidents involving horses, or equine accidents, are a bit murkier.
Horses are regarded as gentle animals. Because of this, society is less likely to blame a horse for an accident. Similarly, courts are more likely to closely examine the circumstances of the accident when determining who is at fault.
Equine injuries, or accidents involving horses, can occur in a number of different ways. This may include while someone is riding the horse, working with the horse, or caring for the horse. Parties involved in these types of situations may include:
- Training schools;
- Horse shows;
- Stable owners;
- Tour companies; and/or
- Owners or employees of any of the above.
Common examples of equine injuries may include:
- A road accident involving a horseback rider;
- An equine accident while training;
- An equine accident at a competition or show;
- A dangerous or defective horseback riding product, such as a saddle; and/or
- Inadequate supervision, especially for novice riders, while riding.
There are, of course, other circumstances in which injuries can occur. These may include a rider falling from the horse and/or a rider not wearing the proper protective gear, such as a helmet, to prevent an injury. Sometimes, normally calm animals can get spooked and kick. Equine injuries are more likely to involve kicking than biting.
Injuries caused by horses can vary in severity. They can include a mild concussion to a more severe injury. It is important to remember that although horses are domesticated and can be trained to behave, they are still animals with natural instincts and will react when startled or stressed.
How Do We Know Who is At Fault?
There are three main categories of horse accidents. They are based on the experience of the rider or participant and the facts of the situation. These may provide guidance on horse owner liability. The three main categories are:
- Professional; and
- Unavoidable accident.
A novice is an inexperienced rider or participant. These individuals have a responsibility to behave in a reasonable manner in order to avoid liability for an accident. They need only anticipate what was foreseeable. This is judged according to their experience level. Because their experience is limited, they are not judged at the same level as an individual with extensive experience with horses.
A professional is an individual who has extensive experience with horses. They are held to a higher standard than a novice. An individual with previous experience with horses needs to behave reasonably within the context of their experience in order to avoid liability.
No matter an individual’s experience level, sometimes unavoidable accidents occur. Should the accident have been unavoidable, no party will be held liable, regardless of their experience level.
What are Equine Activity Statutes?
Some states have passed equine law known as “equine activity statutes.” These laws address issues that may arise when individuals participate in horse related activities. They are designed to limit liability for a death or injury that may occur in connection with a horse related activity.
Equine laws vary by state. The main idea of the statues include the assumption of the risk legal doctrine. Under this doctrine, if an individual is aware of the inherent risks of an activity and chooses to participate anyway, they have assumed the risk involved.
In cases involving equine liability statutes, an injured person cannot recover damages if they were aware or should have been aware of the dangers involved in the activity. Some states offer professionals and horse owners protections. These may include situations where the injured individual was aware or should have been aware of the risks of participating in the activity and knew that injury was a possible outcome.
When Is a Horse Owner Liable for Injuries?
As noted above, most injuries involving horses are caused by horse kick injuries to humans as opposed to a horse biting an individual. There are generally no specific laws regarding injuries from a horse attack. Most of these cases are treated in the same way as if they were caused by other domestic animals.
For example, an owner’s liability in a dog bite case is governed by negligence standards. Negligence occurs if an individual is careless given the circumstances. In most cases, a horse owner will be held liable if they knew or had reason to know a horse had dangerous propensities and were therefore able to prevent the attack.
The party who is liable for the injury will depend on the circumstances. If the horse is privately owned, the owner may be liable. There may be additional parties including a stable where the horse was rented or an instructor.
Are There Defenses to Horse Injury Lawsuits?
Yes, defenses may be available to a horse injury lawsuit or horseback riding accident lawsuit. A horse owner may be able to avoid liability if they can show evidence that:
- The injured individual ignored warnings;
- The injured individual provoked the horse; and/or
- The injured individual trespassed on the owner’s property.
In some cases, if an individual participated in a trail ride or riding lessons, they may have signed a waiver of liability. This is a document an individual signs giving up their right to hold the other party liable for injuries or losses. They may also be known as release forms, liability release forms, or waiver and release forms.
Most waivers state that the individual singing the form will not file a lawsuit or subject the requesting party to litigation if an injury occurs. Many times, an individual will be unable to participate in an activity if they do not sign the waiver. Should an individual feel uneasy or pressured regarding the waiver, it is important to remember not signing and participating in the dangerous activity is also an option.
What Types of Damages are Available in a Horse Injury Accident Claim?
Compensatory damages are available in horse injury accident claims. After a horse riding accident, an individual may have medical expenses or miss days at work. They may suffer financial loss or harm. The damages available may depend on the severity of the injuries, including whether the rider was injured or died as a result of the accident. Horse riding accident compensation may include:
- Medical care bills;
- Ambulance bills;
- Emergency room treatment;
- Hospital bills;
- Physical or occupational therapy;
- Lost wages;
- Lost earning capacity;
- Loss of consortium;
- Disfigurement or disability;
- Scarring; and/or
- Pain and suffering.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Horse Accident Lawsuit? /Should I Consult an Attorney?
Yes, if you have been injured in an equine accident or are facing legal issues arising out of an equine accident, a personal injury lawyer can help. An experienced equine lawyer can review the facts of your case and decide the best course of action.
A lawyer can advise you on the local and state laws that may affect your case. A lawyer will work to protect your rights and represent you during any court proceedings. Since equine injury laws can be murky, it is important to have an attorney’s assistance to present your best case.