Both riding and owning horses carries significant risks of injury. Horses also create the risk of serious liability on the part of their owners. When a horse causes injury an equine liability lawsuit may be the proper remedy to compensate you for your injuries.
Filing a personal injury lawsuit against the owner of a horse who caused your injuries or injuries to a loved one can be complex without the help of an experienced attorney. With help, you can obtain financial compensation in the form of:
- Medical bills,
- Loss of income,
- Loss of consortium,
- Costs of rehabilitation and physical therapy,
- Pain & suffering.
Below, our California personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about equine liability and the injuries you may have suffered:
- 1. What kinds of injuries do horses cause?
- 2. Who can I sue if I was injured by a horse?
3. Are horses considered "inherently dangerous" under California law?
4. What are liability waivers?
Horses are incredibly powerful animals, and because of this, they can cause serious injury. These injuries often occur simply because of the mood or attitude of the horse or may be the result of a problem with the ground on which the ride is happening.
Common injuries associated with horseback riding include:
- Neck and spinal cord injuries,
- Injuries to the face,
- Concussions, traumatic brain injury, and other head injuries,
- Eye injuries,
- Broken and fractured bones,
- Muscle bruising damage, and
- Nerve damage. 1
Depending on the facts of the case, a person injured by a horse can file a personal injury lawsuit if the injury was another person's fault or negligence. While certain defenses exist, those people who may be sued for injuries include:
- Horse owner: Owners of these animals are required to exercise reasonable care in preventing harm caused by their horse. Failure to protect people from harm may result in liability and money damages.
- Owner of the property: If a person is riding while on another person's property and is injured because of that property, the property owner may be liable to whoever is injured.
- Trainer: In certain situations, trainers of horses may be held liable if their wrongful actions caused injury to a horseback rider.
- Riding Club or Stable: If the injury occurred because of a horse owned by a riding club, or boarded by a stable, negligence of those parties may result in money damages from a personal injury lawsuit.
If you have been injured by a horse, an experienced attorney such as those at the Shouse Law Group can help you identify what your claim should be and who you should sue.
California courts have held that horses are "inherently dangerous" animals.2 The courts have held that certain risks of riding a horse are "inherent," or to be expected." These risks include:
- Being thrown by the horse,
- Being bitten,
- Being kicked or stomped, or
- Falling from the saddle. 3
These risks mean that California courts will presume that horseback riders generally assume the risk associated with this activity in most circumstances.
The assumption of the risk doctrine holds that because a horseback rider knows of the risks, and chooses to ride anyway, then the duty of care of the horse's owner or boarder is canceled. Assumption of the risk occurs in two situations:
- Primary assumption of the risk, and
- Express assumption of the risk.
Express assumption of the risk occurs when someone requires the rider to sign a form which releases that person from liability. Also called a liability waiver, signing this document signs away certain rights. Liability waivers are discussed in more detail below. 4
Primary assumption of the risk occurs when a rider is injured while choosing to ride a horse despite knowing the general risks involved in the activity. A defendant, (the person who gets sued), does not have a duty to protect a rider from risks that are naturally a part of horseback riding. This assumption is built into the fabric of California law, but there are exceptions.
Just because riding a horse is considered inherently dangerous does not mean that in all cases an injury from a horse prevents money damages in a case. There are certain exceptions to the doctrine which can hold a person liable:
- Gross Negligence: Gross negligence is an extreme departure from a what an ordinary and reasonable person would do in the same situation. It is more than ordinary negligence. This is important because generally, the assumption of the risk doctrine will disqualify ordinary negligence from a personal injury lawsuit.
- Reckless Actions: A person acts recklessly when that person knows that it is highly likely that his or her conduct will cause harm, and the person knowingly ignores that risk.
- Intentional Actions: If a person means to cause injury when he or she commits some act which causes injury to another person, he or she is not protected by the assumption of the risk doctrine.
Knowing whether one of these exceptions applies can be a complex legal question best suited for a conversation with your attorney.
Liability waivers are a form of express assumption of the risk. They are written agreements under which the person who wishes to ride a horse agrees that it will not hold certain people responsible for any injuries which may result from horseback riding.
46 of the 50 states have enacted equine activity liability acts. These acts cover horse activities and injuries which come as a possible result of them. California is not one of these states. (Neither are Maryland, New York, or Nevada.)
As a result, the assumption of the risk doctrine is applied to personal injury cases dealing with horse-related injuries. Because of this rule, owners of horses who allow others to ride them often require a signed liability waiver.
Liability waivers provide a strong defense against a personal injury lawsuit. Typical waivers include language that holds a person not liable for injuries which occur as a result of horseback riding, including the negligence of owners, their employees, the property, or even the horse itself.
While a liability waiver cannot prevent the filing of a lawsuit, they very often lead to very limited damages or outright dismissal of a case. They also serve as a deterrent against filing the lawsuit in the first place.
Not all liability waivers are enforceable, which means that a California court may decide that the waiver is not valid. To be enforceable, liability waivers must:
- Thoroughly inform of the risks: General statements such as "riding horses is dangerous" are not enough; the waiver should spell out more specific risks within the document.
- Comply with all California laws: California law has certain requirements associated with valid and binding agreement or contracts which must be followed.
- Signatures of the proper parties: The agreement should list the parties whose liability is being released, and those parties must sign the document. The waiver should also list the person giving away their rights, such as the rider. A person can only give away their own rights, so only the person who signed is likely covered by a waiver. The exception is for children, who cannot sign themselves but must have a parent or legal guardian sign the waiver for them.
If the liability waiver is defective in some way, making it not enforceable, the court will not hold the parties to the agreement. However, the court will still likely consider a primary assumption of the risk argument when looking at any personal injury case.
Call us for help...
For questions about filing a lawsuit based on equine liability or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at the Shouse Law Group.
We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
- NCBI. Non‐fatal horse related injuries treated in emergency departments in the United States, 2001–2003.
- See Guido v. Koopman (1991) 1 Cal. App.4th 837, 842.
- Culture of Safety. Horseback Riding Safety.
- See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 408 on Primary Assumption of Risk.