Accidents that involve animals can often add a layer of complexity to the legal issues that come out of them. While there are certain rules that apply to instances involving dog attacks or dog bites, accidents that involve horses are a little bit murkier.
Horses have a reputation of being gentle animals. Due to this public image, society is less likely to assign blame for an accident to the horse. Courts also are more likely to take a close look at the circumstances of the accident when determining who is at fault for the accident.
Accidents involving horses can involve a number of different situations, and can occur while riding, working with, or caring for horses. Sometimes the parties involved may include a training school, ranch, horse show, stable owner, or tour company as well as owners or employees of these entities. Some common examples of these accidents can include:
- Road accidents involving horseback riders;
- Equine accidents while training;
- Equine accidents at competitions or shows;
- Dangerous or defective horseback riding products (like saddles or reins); and
- Inadequate supervision while riding (especially for novice riders).
Of course, injuries can occur in a number of ways — a rider may fall from the horse, or may not be wearing the proper protective gear (such as a helmet) to prevent injury. A normally calm animal might get “spooked” and kick. (Injuries involving horses are more likely to involve kicking rather than biting.)
Injuries caused by horses can vary from a mild concussion to a more severe injury. It is important to remember that while horses are domesticated and can be trained to behave in a certain manner, they are still animals that will act on their natural instincts when startled or under stress.
You can look at horse accidents and break them down into three categories. These categories are based on the experience of the rider/participant and the facts of the situation, and offer guidance on the liability in the situation.
- Novices: A novice, or an inexperienced rider or activity participant, has a responsibility to behave reasonably in order to avoid liability for the accident. They only need to anticipate what was foreseeable, and is judged according their experience level. (Since they have limited experience, they are not judged on the same level as those who have extensive experience in dealing with horses.)
- Professionals: People who have extensive experience with horses are held to a higher standard. To avoid liability, a person with previous experience with horses should behave reasonably within the context of their experience.
- Unavoidable Accidents: Sometimes, “freak” accidents happen. If the accident is unavoidable, then neither party is at fault, regardless of the rider or participant’s experience.
Some states have passed laws that they call “equine activity statutes.” These laws specifically address issues that can arise when people are participating in horse-related activities, and are designed to limit liability for deaths or injuries that occur in connection with horse-related activities.
The details of these statutes may vary depending on the state you’re in, but a main principle in these statutes is the long-standing legal doctrine of “assumption of risk.” If a person has full knowledge of the risks involved in an activity, and they decide to participate in that activity anyway, then that person is said to have assumed the risk.
In cases that involve equine activity statutes, there is no recovery for an injured person if they were or should have been aware of the dangers that are involved with the activity. Some states even offer certain protections for professionals and owner — if the injured person is aware of the inherent dangers of horse activities and still participates, then the professionals and owners involved may be free of liability. (Once again, the injured person assumed the risk of participating in the activity, with knowledge that injury was a possible outcome.)
If you have been injured in an accident involving a horse, or if you find yourself facing legal issues as a result of a horse-related accident, it is in your best interests to contact a personal injury lawyer in your area. A qualified lawyer can talk you through the details of your circumstances, and help you decide on the best way to move forward.
Your lawyer can also advise you on how your state and local laws will affect your case, and work to protect your rights. If you need to go to court, your lawyer can also represent you and file the appropriate paperwork with the court. Having an experienced legal professional on your side to help guide you through the nuances of the legal system will give you peace of mind.