Nationwide, 47 states now have some form of an equine activity liability act (“EALA”). All of these laws differ, but most share common characteristics. EALAs often provide that “equine activity sponsors,” “equine professionals,” or “another person” are not liable if the “participant” sustained injury, death, or damage as a result of an “inherent risk of equine activity.” Georgia’s EALA, for example, defines “inherent risk” this way:

‘Inherent risks of equine activities’ . . . means those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of equine activities or llama activities, as the case may be, including, but not limited to: (A) The propensity of the animal to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around them; (B) The unpredictability of the animal's reaction to such things as sounds, sudden movement, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals; (C) Certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions; (D) Collisions with other animals or objects; and (E) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the animal or not acting within his or her ability.

A frequent issue is whether the EALA bars an injured person’s claim because an “inherent risk of equine activity” caused the injuries. Numerous courts around the country have grappled with this issue. Let’s review a sampling of the cases.

An “Inherent Risk” Caused the Injuries and Warranted Dismissal

Here are a few cases where courts dismissed lawsuits based on a state EALA, finding that an “inherent risk” caused the injuries under the facts of the case.

  • Ohio - A horse’s reaction to a dog, which jumped at the horse’s back legs, was deemed an “inherent risk” under Ohio’s EALA.
  • Indiana - Getting trampled by a loose horse at an event was an “inherent risk of equine activity” under Indiana’s EALA.
  • Kentucky - A horse spooking from the sound of an opening gate was an “inherent risk” under Kentucky’s EALA.
  • Texas - A horse spooking during a trail ride, while riding across muddy and swampy terrain, was an “inherent risk” under the Texas EALA.
  • New Jersey - A horse backing and tripping over a cavaletti in the riding lesson arena was an “inherent risk” under New Jersey’s EALA.
  • Texas - A horse’s violent reaction to the bite from a fire ant was deemed an “inherent risk” under the Texas EALA.
  • Wyoming - The risk of a saddle slipping during a trail ride was an “inherent risk” under Wyoming’s EALA.

Courts Found that “Inherent Risk” Was an Issue for the Jury to Decide

In these cases, courts ruled that a jury needed to decide whether an “inherent risk” caused the injuries and would not dismiss the cases outright.

  • Wyoming - Court found that a trail ride staff’s alleged failure to saddle a horse with even stirrups was an issue of fact for the jury.
  • Hawaii - Whether plaintiff’s injury from a horse bite during a trail ride was caused by an “inherent risk” was considered to be a question of fact for the jury.

Conclusion

Equine activity liability acts have been credited with dismissing some equine and equestrian-related cases, but the issues can become complicated, and there is never a guarantee that a court will dismiss a case based on the facts and the applicable law. Plan ahead, stay properly insured, and comply with state EALA requirements that apply to you.