The horse industry scored big on April 29, 2011, when the Supreme Court of Texas issued their first-ever opinion addressing the scope of the Texas Equine Activity Limitation of Liability Act.
The Act (Sections 87.001-005 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code) limits the liability of equine activity sponsors and other persons for damages resulting from inherent risks of an equine activity. It is the same law referred to on the warning signs posted by horse show sponsors, boarding stables, race tracks, and training facilities.
The Texas Supreme Court case, entitled Loftin v. Lee, involved a woman who fell off a horse and fractured a vertebra when the horse she was riding spooked at a patch of mud and a vine hanging from a tree during a trail ride. The injured woman (Janice Lee) had raised horses for years, but had not ridden much. Lee sued her friend, Terri Loftin, who had invited Lee to ride her daughter’s horse “Smash”, a twelve-year-old gelding. Loftin also accompanied Lee on the ride.
I filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the Texas Quarter Horse Association, in support of Terri Loftin’s position. A link to the Court’s opinion can be found here.
The Court addressed two issues in its opinion:
1) Are risks “inherent in an equine activity” only if they relate to animal behavior or are otherwise unavoidable?
Court’s finding: No. An inherent risk is one that, in its general character, is associated with activities involving equine animals.
2) Is a person immune from liability under the Act for failing to fully asses a person’s ability to participate in an equine activity if that failure did not cause the injury?
Court’s finding: Yes.
The Loftin case is a great victory and great relief for Texas horsemen, for if a muddy patch or a hanging vine on a trail ride is not an inherent risk, what is? The Texas case incidentally comes on the heels of a 2010 Michigan Supreme Court case, Beattie v. Mickalich, where the Michigan Supreme Court found that defendants are not immune from general negligence actions under Michigan’s version of the Act. The Beattie opinion practically nullifies the main benefit of the Michigan Act for defendants—the ability to have a negligence case involving an inherent equine risk dismissed summarily before trial. Hopefully other states will follow Texas’s lead on this extremely important issue.