‘The horses we rode, carried us onward. They were family, too. They put their hearts into the mission, paid the price for our follies, and loved us just the same. To see the world from horseback is a privilege, we owe thanks to our four-hoofed brethren.’ – Angela Abraham
Horse and man have a long history. Horse riding is a popular and enjoyable activity for many. However, horseback riding is not without risk.
While riders usually accept that they will meet Mother Earth quite a few times due to their own actions and inexperience on the back of a horse, there are situations where an accident is due to the negligence of another person or an organization.
This is the focus of this article. What are your options when you suffered an injury that was not your fault at a riding school, during an organized ride or at a show jumping event?
There rests a responsibility for event organizers and stable owners to minimize the risk of any horse-related accident.
Different types of horse-riding incidents
Of course, it will be impossible to list all possible scenarios here. However, a few common types of horse-riding accidents that personal injury lawyers see, are:
- Riders injured because they were supplied with faulty equipment.
- Horse rider injured because of an unsuitable and uneven road surface.
- Coalitions on the road with motor vehicles.
- A rider being provided with a horse that has an inappropriate temperament.
- Accidents due to poor leadership in group riding.
Broken bones and worse
If you’re lucky, you’ll only be bruised after a fall from a horse.
Broken bones, spinal cord injures, or head- and brain injuries, however, are common after a fall. In fact, some studies found that horseback riding is riskier than car- or motorcycle racing, football or skiing. Head injuries in reported studies can be as high as 48% of all cases.
To add to the injury, the horse can fall on top of you. A full-grown horse can weigh up to half a ton, and this can cause serious (and sometimes fatal) injuries.
A horse can also bite you or kick you. It can stand on your foot or crush you against a wall or a gate.
A horse-related injury can have terrible consequences for you and your family. Permanent disability is not uncommon, and many patients will require ongoing care after a horse-related incident. If working with horses or showjumping was part of your career, a severe accident might mean the end of your work life.
Compensation can help. It will not undo what has happened to you, but it can pay for specialized care or rehabilitation. In some cases, damages may also payout for injuries suffered, pain, and suffering.
How to claim for a horse-riding injury
How do I know if I even have a claim?
Equestrian claims are not always straight-forward.
Cases will usually be looked at according to their individual facts. A personal injury lawyer will most probably investigate whether any of the events that could lead to the accident could have been prevented.
Also, did the injured party know about any inherent risks?
‘The third party was negligent.’
The only way a personal injury case in an equestrian accident can be successful is if you and your lawyer can prove that a third party has been negligent and that the negligence was a direct cause of the accident.
You may also have a claim if you can prove that your injury could have been less severe, had the horse owner or livery yard manager took other reasonable precautions to prevent your accident from happening.
However, there is the ‘assumption of risk’ doctrine.
The assumption of risk
According to this doctrine, a horseback rider knows there are general risks when he chooses to ride a horse.
Should he, despite this, still wants to ride, the duty of care of a horse owner of a stable yard is canceled.
The defendant, therefore, cannot protect a horseback rider from risks that are inherent and naturally a part of horseback riding.
Exceptions to the rule
In some cases, a third person can be held liable, however. All horse-related injuries are not automatically excused from collecting damages.
- Gross negligence. In the same situation, what would an ordinary, reasonable person have done? Gross negligence exceeds this by far.
- Someone acted recklessly. The person knew that his conduct would most probably cause harm but kept on doing what he was doing.
- ‘He meant to do it.’ If the other person were intentional in his actions, he would not be protected by the assumption of risk doctrine.
A personal injury lawyer will know when to apply one of these exceptions to your case.
What about a liability waiver?
Liability waivers are common at stables or equestrian events. It is a written agreement, where the person who wishes to ride states that he will not hold anyone responsible if something happens to him while riding.
To be enforceable, a waiver must spell out specific risks, comply with relevant state laws, and be explicitly signed by the rider (or, a parent or legal guardian, in the case of children.) Such a waiver is usually a strong defense against a personal injury lawsuit.
In one case, the plaintiff, Enslin, sued after a fall from a horse. She signed a liability release form.
In court, she said that she fell after the horse took off on a gallop without warning. Unfortunately for her, the plain wording of the release she signed warned that the horse could change direction or speed at will. The Supreme Court of New York dismissed the charges against the defendant. (Eslin v. County of Suffolk. 795 N.Y.S. 2d349, 2005)
Who can I sue?
Again, depending on the facts of the case, you can open a personal injury lawsuit if the other person was negligent, as we discussed above. Persons who can be sued for injuries may include:
The owner of the property. If someone was injured due to some inherent quality of the property where he was riding, he could sue the property owner. (Interestingly, one common hazardous condition often overlooked by landowners, is the presence of dogs. Dogs can spook a horse at substantial risk to a rider.)
The horse owner or a trainer. Owners must exercise reasonable care to prevent their horse from harming someone. If you failed to protect a rider, you might be liable. A trainer can also be held responsible if something he did cause his rider to get hurt.
The riding school, club, or stable. Negligence of one of these instances can also result in them being legally responsible in a personal injury suit.
A case in point happened on a rainy day at a riding school in Greater London in 2012. The weather was so poor that all the lessons of that day were held inside in the indoor area.
Miss X was a novice rider. The arena was full of trainers, horses, and riders – more than that were safe in such a confined space. Nobody was in charge of overseeing the operation. Less experienced riders became nervous.
Someone cut in front of Miss X, and her horse threw her. She hurt her back and may suffer long term consequences.
This incident was avoidable. The riding school should have known that in such a crowded space, a horse with a novice rider can become spooked. This was a system failure and not a risk that Miss X could have anticipated as an everyday ‘risk’ of the activity. The riding school was negligent in failing to provide a contingency plan for bad weather.
Time limit to claim for an equestrian accident
You usually have three years (from the date of your accident) to start a personal injury claim. However, if you can, start the proceedings as early as possible. It is much easier to get the relevant documentation and witness statements together closer to the event than years later.
If you claim on behalf of a child, you can claim up until the child’s eighteenth birthday. After that, the child (as an adult) can ‘take over’ his own case and claim until he is twenty-one.
What can I expect from the process?
Your horse-riding accident compensation will be calculated based on the extent of the injury, the impact on your life, and the likely impact it would have on your life in the future. You can also claim for medical expenses.
A personal injury lawyer will be able to give you the best indication of how much your claim could be worth.
A payout will depend on the complexity of the case. Having an experienced legal professional on your side will definitely give you peace of mind in your horse-riding personal injury case.
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