A California farrier (horseshoer) with 45 years of experience was hired to trim a horse’s hooves. While working in an outdoor corral, the horse knocked him down, and his head hit a rock. He died from his injuries, and his estate sued the horse owner who also owned the property. The trial court dismissed the case, and the California Court of Appeals agreed.

Why did the case fail?

In its lawsuit, the farrier’s estate claimed that the horse owner negligently failed to secure and restrain other horses that were in the corral where the farrier was working, failed to remove rocks from the corral, failed to warn that the corral was rocky, and failed to warn that the horse had a “volatile disposition and temperament.” The horse owner, defending against the lawsuit, argued that California law of primary assumption of risk barred the case because horse shoeing was an “inherently dangerous” animal-related activity, and the farrier was an independent contractor who had no recourse under California law.

Affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the case, the California Court of Appeals found that the legal doctrine of “primary assumption of the risk” applied in a variety of occupational settings, including veterinarians, but California apparently had no precedent involving farriers hurt on the job. It noted that the assumption of risk doctrine encompasses "any physical activity that involves an element of risk or danger as an integral part of the activity." Accordingly, the court extended “assumption of risk” to the farrier, reasoning that “the job of a farrier is an inherently dangerous occupation as much, or more so, than that of a veterinarian.”

The estate also argued that the horse owner was liable for failing to secure or restrain horses for the farrier or help him do his job, but the court disagreed. It found that securing the horses was an essential part of the farrier’s job, and the horse owner had no duty to secure the horses once he relinquished care and control to the farrier.

Finally, the estate argued that the horse owner should be liable because the presence of rocks in the corral posed a hazard to the farrier. Dismissing this, the court explained that the rocks, to the extent that they were dangerous, were obvious, and California law prevented recovery “where the danger was obvious.” It found that the farrier could assess the risks and the safety of working with horses in that environment.

For more information on farriers and the law, please see our earlier post on farrier malpractice.

The case was Barrett v. Leech, 2014 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5185, 2014 WL 3659366 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. July 24, 2014), an unpublished case.