This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of The equine chronicle and has since been updated.
Courts across the country have weighed in on the meaning of equine activity liability laws — particularly their exceptions. Exceptions in the laws are important because they could potentially allow certain lawsuits to proceed. Although all Equine Activity Liability Acts (known as “EALAs”) differ, many share common characteristics. Many include an exception for a “dangerous latent ground condition”. This article explores how the exception has played out in court.
What is the “unsafe latent condition of the ground” exception?
Michigan’s EALA, for example, states that despite provisions in the law that may prevent lawsuits, an equine promoter, equine professional, or other person may still be liable for a horse-related injury if the person or company:
Owns, leases, has licensed the use of, or is otherwise in lawful possession and control of land or facilities on which Participant suffered an injury due to a dangerous latent state of the land or facilities which is known to the promoter of the equine activity, the equine professional or another person and for which warning signs are not posted in a visible manner.
The term “latent” means that the presence of the condition is neither apparent nor visible.
How did this EALA exception play out in court?
When people have been injured while riding, handling or near horses or when they have injured themselves on equestrian facilities, the “unsafe latent condition” exception has been invoked, with mixed results.
The court found a “dangerous latent condition”
In a Kentucky case, the injured plaintiff was an equine veterinarian who was sedating a horse in a stall on the defendant’s farm when the horse reared up and collapsed on a stall door. This cabin door then fell on the vet, causing injuries. The vet’s lawsuit argued that the stable should be liable under the “unsafe latent condition of the course” exception in Kentucky’s EALA. A Kentucky appeals court ruled that the case could be pursued against the stable under this exception.
Courts DO NOT FIND ‘dangerous latent condition’
red ants – In a 2005 case, the court was unwilling to find that a colony of fire ants near the riding area qualified as a “dangerous latent land condition” under Texas’ EALA .
Hitch rail – A Georgia court ruling found a camp was not responsible when part of a hitch rail separated from its posts and fell on an RV. The rail was not considered a “dangerous latent ground condition” of which the side knew or should have known.
doors – In a Massachusetts case, the plaintiff argued that the Massachusetts EALA’s “unsafe latent condition of the land” exception applied to a stable owner because a door on the property of the stable had allegedly fallen into disrepair, allowing an aggressive horse access to the plaintiff and her horse. The court disagreed.
A pasture gate was also at issue in an Ohio case where the plaintiff was injured when a nearby horse rushed backwards into a gate and knocked fence rail boards out of a rack and punched the complainant in the face. Based on evidence that the defendant landowner could not have known of an unsafe condition, the court dismissed the “unsafe latent condition of the land” exception under Ohio’s EALA as the basis for the claim. responsibility.
Horse – During a fox hunt, a fox hunter was kicked by the horse of another fox hunter. The injured hunter argued, in part, that the kicking horse was a “dangerous latent condition” under Georgia’s EALA for which no visible warning signs were displayed. A Georgia appeals court rejected that argument.
Tree – When a horse veered off a track, causing the plaintiff to collide with a tree outside the track and injure himself, a court wouldn’t find a tree qualified as a ‘dangerous latent condition’ under the Texas EALA.
In conclusion, please keep these ideas in mind:
- Carefully read the applicable EALAs where you live or do business. All differ.
- Properly written and signed waivers can be important. Some state courts have allowed the release of liability in EALAs by waiver/release of liability, and a few state EALAs specifically allow this.
- If you suspect that a condition exists on land you own or lease that could qualify as a “dangerous latent condition” – such as a slippery patch of ice well known to exist in your indoor arena but covered in dirt – your EALA may require you to post a “visible warning sign” to alert people, not a generalized EALA “warning” sign.
- No EALA is a “zero liability law”. Certain types of claims might be able to succeed. In addition to using properly written disclaimers (where permitted by law), liability insurance is also important.