Lawsuits for Horseback Riding Injuries in California

Horseback riding injuries in California can be caused by negligent trainers, property owner negligence, or inexperienced horse handling. Under California personal injury laws, anyone injured in a horseback riding accident can file a personal injury lawsuit against those responsible for the accident. If a rider died in a horse-related accident, the family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to be compensated for their loss.

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about horseback riding accident lawsuits in California:

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

Horseback 20riding
Under California personal injury laws, anyone injured in a horseback riding accident can file a personal injury lawsuit against those responsible for the accident.

1. Can I sue if I was injured in a horseback riding accident?

If another person was responsible for your horseback riding injury, you may be able to file a lawsuit for damages. The individual or parties responsible for causing your accident may be legally liable for your injuries. This could include the

  • property owner,
  • horse owner,
  • trainer,
  • riding club, or
  • others.

You can sue for compensation for your injuries through filing a personal injury lawsuit in California. If you are injured in a horse-related accident in California, you may be able to recover damages for:

  • Physical injuries,
  • Lost wages,
  • Medical bills,
  • Future treatment, and
  • Property damage.

After an injury, you may not know the cause of the accident or who was responsible. There may be multiple causes of a horse-related accident that are not always clear to the victim at the time. It may require an investigation to determine who was responsible so that the victim can be compensated.

Under California law, a negligent party is liable for any injuries caused to another. In a horseback riding accident, a negligent owner or trainer could be liable to the injured rider for any injuries suffered.

To recover damages after an injury accident, the accident victim or surviving family members generally need to show the other party was negligent. The elements for negligence include showing:

  1. That the defendant owed the victim a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care through negligence; and
  3. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the victim's injuries or death.1

After an injury, you should consider talking to a personal injury lawyer before you talk to the insurance company or the property owner. The insurance company may want to settle the claim for as little as possible, even if that means you are not fully compensated. However, you should let your lawyer deal with the insurance company so you can focus on your recovery.

2. What should I do after a horseback riding accident in California?

The first thing you should do after a horseback riding accident is to seek medical attention. If you are injured, call 9-1-1 or ask someone to call for you. Even if you are not sure if you are seriously injured, you should consider getting evaluated by your doctor.

Many riding accidents involve landing on your back, neck, or head. Back and spinal injuries can be deceptive. You may not feel any serious pain after a fall and think everything is okay. However, the next day, you may wake up in serious pain or have limited motion. The sooner you get these injuries checked out, the better your chances may be for preventing a long-term injury.

You may also want to gather information after your accident, including contact information of anyone who may have witnessed the accident. It may also be a good idea to take photos or video of the area, including any obstacles or conditions that may have contributed to the accident.

Watch What You Say After an Accident

After an accident, you may apologize for something that wasn't entirely your fault. Your trainer or another rider may blame you for the fall, or even make light of the accident. However, you should be careful about what you say after an accident and make sure nothing you say can be taken as admitting you are at fault.

You may not even know the cause of the accident. There may have been a number of factors at play that you never knew about. Fault is a question that should be left up to the jury. If someone else caused the accident, then you deserve compensation for your injuries.

Generally, you do not have to gather all the evidence or conduct your own investigation. You should focus on recovery. Your attorney will be able to get the contact information of everyone involved, gather evidence, and find out if the property owner's insurance company covers your injuries.

The horse owner or property owner may want you to sign a form saying you won't sue. Or the insurance company may want you to take a quick settlement. Do not settle your case without talking to an experienced lawyer about your rights. A quick settlement may sound good but it may come at the expense of more serious damages or injuries down the road.

3. Who is to blame after a horseback riding accident?

Anyone can share some of the blame after a horseback riding accident. This could anyone who was aware of a potential for danger, or anyone who did not follow proper safety procedures, placing your life at risk. Even if you shared in the blame, another person may still share some of the fault and should be held accountable for their negligence.

Individuals who may share in the blame after a horseback riding accident may include:

  • Property owners
  • Stable owners
  • Horse owner
  • Trainer
  • Riding instructor
  • Riding club
  • Recreation center
  • Other riders
  • Equipment manufacturers
  • Employees
  • Farriers
  • Veterinarian

3.1. Are property owners liable for my horseback riding injury?

If the injury was caused by a dangerous condition on the property, like a hole or trip hazard, the property owner may be liable for any injury caused.

Property owners generally have a duty to repair any known hazardous conditions or warn visitors about conditions that could cause an injury or accident. Under California's premises liability laws, the owner or occupier is required to keep property in a reasonably safe condition. This includes a duty exercise reasonable care to:

  • Maintain the property;
  • Inspect the property
  • Repair any potentially dangerous conditions; and
  • Give proper warning of any dangerous conditions.2

Example: Michelle goes to the Sunrise Ranch Equestrian Center in Burbank for a trail ride. Michelle is an experienced rider and the equestrian center employee, Anthony, lets Michelle ride on her own without a guide.

On the property, there is an old oil drilling area that was abandoned decades ago. Everyone who rides on the property knows about the drilling area and avoids it because there are holes and rusty equipment. Anthony doesn't tell Michelle about the area to avoid because she was an experienced rider.

While riding, Michelle trots over by the hidden oil drilling area to get a good selfie with the mountains in the background. Michelle doesn't see a hidden hole and the horse's front hoof falls through and Michelle falls off the horse, hitting her head on a piece of metal. Michelle is taken to the hospital where she is treated for her injuries.

Michelle may have a claim against the property owner of Sunrise Ranch. The property owners were aware of the dangerous conditions and did not warn Michelle of the dangers. Michelle may be able to sue Sunrise Ranch for damages associated with the injury.

3.2. Is my trainer or instructor responsible for my horseback riding injury?

A trainer or instructor may also be responsible for your horseback riding injury if he or she was negligent or reckless in causing the accident. If a trainer tells the rider to do something that a reasonable trainer would not suggest or encourages the rider to try some dangerous maneuver, the trainer may be liable for the rider's injuries.

Example: Nancy is taking dressage classes at Moorpark English Riding Academy, with her instructor, Klaus. Klaus is busy texting his friend about a big competition coming up and is not paying attention to Nancy's riding.

Nancy tells Klaus that there is a rattlesnake on the ground and asks what to do. Klaus is not listening and just tells her to keep trotting. Nancy commands the horse to keep trotting and the horse bucks at the sight of the snake, causing Nancy to fall, breaking her wrist.

In this case, Klaus may have been negligent in causing the accident. A reasonable instructor would have been paying attention and responded to Nancy's alert about the snake. When Klaus told Nancy to keep riding with a snake in the arena, Klaus could be considered negligent and may be liable for Nancy's damages.

3.3. Is the riding club liable for my injury?

A riding club may also be liable for injuries through any negligence of the owners or employees. If the riding club is responsible for taking care of the property, they may also be liable for any dangerous conditions on the property because of premises liability laws.

If the riding club is part of a city, county, or state agency, the government may be liable for any hazardous conditions. If the injury occurred on city-owned property, the city could be liable for damages if:

  1. The city-owned or controlled the property;
  2. The property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the accident;
  3. The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that occurred;
  4. The city had notice of the dangerous condition for a long enough time to have protected against it;
  5. The plaintiff was harmed; and
  6. The dangerous condition was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.3

The riding club or recreational center may also be liable for the negligence of their employees. Many horseback riding accidents are caused by lack of proper supervision, lack of training for employees, or understaffing.

When an employee is negligent in causing or failing to prevent an accident, the employer may be held liable for the accident. Under California's “Respondeat Superior” laws, an employer can be held vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees.The facility may also be responsible for negligence in the hiring, supervision and retention of its staff.

3.4. Is the horse's owner responsible for my riding injury?

The horse's owner may also be responsible for riding injuries. If the owner was aware of problems with the horse and failed to warn the rider, the owner may have been negligent in causing the rider's injuries.

To recover damages from the horse's owner after an injury accident, the victim would need to show the owner was negligent, including:

  1. The horse's owner owed the victim a duty of care;
  2. The owner breached that duty of care through negligence or failure to warn; and
  3. The owner's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the victim's injuries.

3.5. Does equine liability insurance cover my injuries?

Equine insurance may cover some horseback rider injuries. Equine liability insurance is generally categorized as:

  • Private equine liability insurance; and
  • Commercial equine liability insurance.

The coverage depends on the specific language of the insurance plan and the type of injury involved. The plans may exclude certain parties from coverage or may limit the liability. Third party insurance protects policyholders from claims by other people, such as a rider who is injured while riding a horse on another's property.

Furthermore, a property owner's insurance policy may cover the property owner's liability for accidents on the property, including horseback riding accidents. However, the policy limits may not cover all the damages associated with the injury or death.

Insurance coverage can be a complicated issue because many insurance companies do not want to pay out claims if they can find a way to avoid it. This may require court action to find the insurance company financially liable. Talk to your California horseback riding injury attorney to find out if your injuries are covered by insurance or if another person is responsible for your damages.

4. What are my damages in a horseback riding accident lawsuit?

After a horseback riding accident, you may have medical expenses and have to take days off of work. This care is considered “damages” in a personal injury accident.

The damages available in a California horseback riding accident include any financial loss or harm that resulted from the accident. The types of damages available may depend on the seriousness of the injuries, including whether the victim was injured or died as a result of the riding accident.

In most personal injury lawsuits, the injured victim can sue for compensatory damages, including non-economic damages. Damages may include:

5. Can I file a claim if my child was killed in a horseback riding accident?

Under California's wrongful death law, families can recover damages when a loved one has died because of another's wrongful conduct. If your child was killed in a horseback riding accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim for damages.5

The damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit include any costs associated with the loss of the family member, including:

  • Burial expenses;
  • Funeral expenses;
  • Lost financial earnings the victim would have earned if he or she had survived; and
  • Compensation for the loss of companionship, affection, and support.

Family members who can file a wrongful death claim in California include:

  • A surviving spouse;
  • A surviving domestic partner;
  • Any children;
  • Any grandchildren (if the individual's children are deceased); or
  • Anyone else who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.

A California survival action lawsuit can also be filed along with a wrongful death claim. A survival action allows the deceased person's estate to sue for losses sustained by the decedent. The damages available in a survival action include the losses that occurred after the negligent action but before death. This could include:

  • Medical bills,
  • Lost waged, and
  • Property damage.

6. What can I do if the horse owner says I can't sue them? What are their defenses?

The horse owner or property owner may get defensive after an accident and say you can't sue them. However, no matter what the guilty party says, you may still be able to file a claim for damages. Talk to your attorney about whether you have a claim and if the horse owner may have a defense to your lawsuit.

There are many defenses available to someone who is sued for damages after someone is injured in a horseback riding accident, including:

  • Assumption of the risk
  • No duty of care
  • The victim was partly responsible
  • Victim waived liability

6.1. Assumption of the Risk

“Assumption of the risk” in California is a legal defense that shifts the liability for an injury to the person who participated in a risky activity. In a horseback riding accident lawsuit, assumption of the risk could involve showing that the victim voluntarily decided to ride horses which carries an inherent risk of falling.

However, just because horseback riding has a risk of a fall does not necessarily mean that someone was not responsible for the accident. An injured rider can still file a lawsuit if the defendant was grossly negligent, reckless, or intentionally injured the plaintiff

Example: Hector and Giselle are playing a game of polo at the Van Nuys Polo Club. Giselle hooks Hector's stick and steals the ball. Giselle turns and scores a goal.

Hector gets mad that Giselle outplayed him. When Giselle gets the ball again, Hector rides off Giselle and shoves her with his elbow. Giselle falls off her horse, breaking her elbow.

Hector claims that Giselle's injuries are just part of the game and she assumed the risk by signing up to play polo. However, Hector's actions were reckless or intentional in shoving Giselle. Hector may be liable for Giselle's injuries even if she assumed the risk of a horseback riding injury because of Hector's intentional actions.

6.2. Liability Waivers

Liability waivers are common in horseback riding activities. One-time events or regular horseback riding activities often require the participant to sign a liability waiver that the activity involves a potentially dangerous activity, including:

  • Trail rides
  • Introductory horseback riding classes
  • Summer riding camps

A liability waiver is generally a legally enforceable contract. Like “assumption of the risk,” a liability waiver generally protects the operator or owner from personal injury claims for ordinary negligence. However, a liability waiver may not protect the company from gross negligence, recklessness, illegal activities, or intentional harm.

Example: Karen is taking an English riding summer class at the San Gabriel Riding Academy. The instructor, Gretchen, is annoyed because Karen doesn't follow instructions. Karen's mom has also not paid for the last 3 classes and always makes excuses for not having the money. Gretchen wants to kick Karen out of the class but the academy won't let her.

When Karen is sitting in the saddle, Gretchen rides up and whacks Karen's horse with a riding crop. The horse rears up and Karen falls off, spraining her ankle. Another rider saw what Gretchen did and tells Karen's mom about it.

Karen may have a claim for damages against Gretchen and the academy. Karen and Karen's mom signed the waiver; however, the waiver may not protect Gretchen or the academy for gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional harm.

6.3. No Duty Owed to the Victim

Property owners have a duty of care to individuals who come onto their property under California's premises liability laws. However, the duty of care depends on who the visitor is and why they are on the property. This includes:

  • Invitees
  • Licensees
  • Trespassers

Property owners do not owe trespassers the same duty of care as someone they invite on their property. A property owner only has the duty not to create a dangerous condition for trespassers, such as creating a booby trap. If a trespasser is injured on someone's property, they may not be able to recover damages.

Example: Burt owns a large plot of land next to the Pacific Crest Equine School. The riding school rents horses for half-day trail rides. The riding school provides riders with a map of the trails and the boundary markers.

Sam sometimes rents horses for a trail ride but gets bored with the regular trails. Instead, Sam takes the horse beyond the boundaries and onto Burt's land. Sam accidentally rides across an old well and the horse's hoof falls through the wooden well cover. Sam falls off the horse, breaking his leg.

Sam files a lawsuit against Burt for not warning people about the old well. Burt does not owe trespassers a duty to warn them of hazardous conditions, only to not create dangerous conditions. Burt may have a defense to the lawsuit because Sam was trespassing on his property.

7. Can I file a lawsuit if I was partly responsible for the horseback riding accident?

Under California's “comparative fault” law, you may still be able to recover damages in a personal injury accident even if you are partly to blame for the accident. If more than one party shares in the fault for the accident, the jury can apportion fault and damages. This means that the injured party's damages could be reduced to reflect the shared level of fault.

Example: Lance and Andy are riding horses on Andy's farm. Lance and Andy have had a couple of beers and are not riding responsibly. Lance and Andy decide to race to the barn. While racing, Andy and Lance crash into each other, leaving Andy with a broken ankle. Andy's medical bills total $10,000.

The jury determines Lance is 80% at fault and Andy 20% at fault. If Andy wins his case, he may be able to recover $8,000 in damages from Lance to represent 80% of the fault. Andy may be responsible for the remainder of his medical bills.

8. Can I file a lawsuit if I signed a waiver before my accident?

A liability waiver generally acts as a legally enforceable contract. A valid liability waiver can release an individual from future negligence if the release has clear, unambiguous, and is explicit in expressing the intent of the parties. However, a liability waiver may not cover reckless or intentional acts that cause harm.

If you signed a valid liability waiver and you were injured in a horseback riding accident, a jury would have to determine whether the accident was covered by the liability waiver or assumption of risk agreement. The waiver may not apply to injuries caused by gross negligence, recklessness, illegal activities, or intentional harm.

Additionally, not all liability waivers are enforceable. Under California contract law, a child is not generally able to enter into legally enforceable contracts. If a child (under the age of 18) signs a liability waiver, that waiver may not be enforceable.6

A parent or legal guardian is usually required to sign a liability waiver on behalf of their child.7

9. How common are horseback riding accidents in California and the U.S.?

Horseback riding is a popular sport and recreational activity in California. California is among the top states in terms of horse ownership and economic impact. According to the Humane Society, there are almost 700,000 horses in California, including commercially and privately owned horses for sport and recreation.8

In California, horseback riding involves many different styles, including:

  • Dressage
  • Showjumping
  • Western
  • Hunter
  • Rodeo
  • Racing

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 30 million people ride horses each year in the U.S. In 1988, over 90,000 emergency room visits were made related to horseback riding injuries.9

The rate of serious injury for horseback riders is higher than that for motorcycle riders.10 Compared to other sports, horseback riding is more dangerous than cycling and almost as dangerous as downhill skiing, with 3.7 injuries per 1,000 hours of participation. However, studies have shown that horse-related injuries tend to be more severe than other sports-related injuries.11

The average hospitalization time for a horseback riding-related injury is 5 to 6 days. This includes head injuries, which are involved in approximately 10% to 30% of horse-related accidents. According to a study by the Journal of Neurosurgery, equestrian sports have the highest percentage of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) for adults. 12

9.1. Horseback Riding Accident Risk Factors

Any style of riding involves some level of risk. Novices and experienced riders alike can face serious injury or even death while riding horses. However, there are a number of factors that may place some riders at a greater risk of serious injury or death, including:

  • Helmet use
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Experience

Helmets: Helmet use greatly reduces the chances of serious head injury after a fall from a horse. According to the U.S. Pony Club, after mandating the use of an approved helmet with chinstrap, head injuries decreased 60%. Another study found that horse-related deaths dropped more than 70% after helmets became required in New York.13

Age: The greatest number of horseback riding injuries involved riders between the ages of 25 and 44 years old. However, the rate of injury was highest for individuals aged 5 to 24 years old.14

Sex: The majority of horseback riding accidents involve female riders. However, horse-related deaths are divided about equally between men and women.15

Experience: Novice riders may have the highest rates of injury. Similarly, recreational riders have a higher rate of injury than professional riders. However, the majority of horse riders suffer some injury at some point in their riding career. A survey of horse riders in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho found that more than 80% were injured at some point, and about 20% were seriously injured, requiring hospitalization or resulting in long-term disability.16

9.2. Horseback Riding Injuries

There are a number of potential causes of horseback riding injuries. However, the majority of horseback riding injuries involve a fall from the horse. The most common injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Neck and spinal injuries
  • Upper extremity injuries
  • Facial injuries
  • Soft tissue injury
  • Head injuries
  • Concussions
  • Nervous system damage
  • Facial disfigurement
  • Scarring
  • Internal bleeding
  • Eye injuries
  • Crushing injuries17
Call 20us 20serious

For questions about horseback riding accident lawsuits in California or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at 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.


Legal References:

  1. See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
  2. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements.
  3. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1100. Dangerous Condition on Public Property. Essential Factual Elements.
  4. Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967 (“Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for his employee's torts committed within the scope of the employment.”)
  5. California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
  6. California Family Code 6710 (“Except as otherwise provided by statute, a contract of a minor may be disaffirmed by the minor before majority or within a reasonable time afterwards or, in case of the minor's death within that period, by the minor's heirs or personal representative.”)
  7. Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist. (1990) 224 Cal.App.3d 1559.
  8. The State of the Animals IV: 2007. The Demographics of the U.S. Equine Population, Emily R. Kilby. Available at: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/hsp/soaiv_07_ch10.pdf
  9. Current Trends Injuries Associated with Horseback Riding -- United States, 1987 and 1988. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  10. Same.
  11. Parkkari, J., Kannus, P., Natri, A., Lapinleimu, I., Palvanen, M., Heiskanen, M., Vuori, I., & Järvinen, M. (2004). Active living and injury risk. International Journal Sports Medicine, 25(3), 209-216.
  12. Equestrian Injury Statistics, Sara Mastellar, 7/10/2017. Available at: http://igrow.org/livestock/horse/equestrian-injury-statistics/
  13. Same.
  14. Current Trends Injuries Associated with Horseback Riding -- United States, 1987 and 1988, see footnote 11 above.
  15. Same
  16. Equestrian Injury Statistics, Sara Mastellar, see footnote 6 above.
  17. Common Injuries in horseback riding. A review. Bixby-Hammett D, Brooks WH, Sports Med 1990 Jan; 9(1): 36-47.

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