As we discussed in this prior post, the Supreme Court of Texas has not yet addressed the issue of whether Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”) shields defendants from liability in suits where employees or independent contractors are injured while engaging in an equine activities. Up until last week, we only had two opinions—both from intermediate appellate courts—addressing this issue.
In the first case—Johnson v. Smith (Corpus Christi 2002)—the court held that independent contractors were participants under the Act, and therefore the Act shielded defendants in suits brought by independent contractors from liability. In the second case—Dodge v. Durdin (Houston [1st] 2005)—the court held that employees are not participants under the Act, and therefore defendants in suits brought by employees are not immune from liability.
As of last Thursday, we now have a third appellate case that sheds light on this issue. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston recently held that the Act immunizes defendants from liability for claims brought by independent contractors.
The case, styled Young v. McKim, represents the first equine employee negligence suit addressed by a Texas court of appeals since Loftin v. Lee was handed down by the Texas Supreme Court in April of 2011.
Case Background: Brenda Young had posted a flyer at Ravensway Stables advertising her ability to assist owners in the care of their horses. Tisa McKim and her daughter, Jackie, hired Young to care for their horses—Jasper and Butch—at Ravensway.
About two months after Young started caring for Jasper (a rescue horse), Jasper kicked Young and injured her. The injury occurred while Young was talking to another boarder at Ravensway while Jasper grazed beside her.
Young sued the McKims for negligence, and the McKims moved for summary judgment under the version of the Act in existence in 2010 (i.e. before the Act was amended in 2011). The trial court granted the McKims’ motion for summary judgment.
The Appeal: The Fourteenth Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the McKims. On appeal, Young alleged that the Act did not shield the McKims from liability. Among the reasons Young gave were 1) only “tourists and other consumers of equine activities” qualify as participants under the Act; and 2) Young was an employee of the McKims, not an independent contractor. Young relied heavily on the First Court of Appeals’ opinion in Dodge on appeal.
The Fourteenth Court of Appeals determined that Young was an independent contractor, not an employee. The court did not reach the issue of whether the Act would have applied had Young been an employee. The Fourteenth Court disagreed with the discussion in Dodge suggesting that the Act only applied to “tourists and other consumers of equine activities.”
Citing Loftin, the Fourteenth Court held,
“The Equine Act is a comprehensive limitation of liability for equine activities of all kinds…The Equine Act applies to all ‘participants’”. [Emphasis supplied].
It remains to be seen whether Young will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas. Given the Supreme Court’s expansive view of the Act set forth in Loftin, the Supreme Court might disagree with Dodge’s holding that the Act does not apply to employees.
Case Information: Young v. McKim, No. 14-11-00376-CV, 2012 WL 1951099 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th] May 31, 2012, no pet h.).