Private, Backyard Facility Could Qualify as an “Equine Activity Sponsor” Under Equine Activity Liability Law

As of July 20, 2015, 47 states– all but California, Maryland, and New York – have passed some form of an Equine Activity Liability Act ("EALA"). These laws sometimes share common characteristics, but all of them differ. Most follow a pattern that prevents an “equine activity sponsor,” “equine professional,” or possibly others from being sued if a “participant” who “engages in an equine activity” suffers injury, death or damage from an “inherent risk.” For example, Tennessee’s EALA, T. C. A. § 44-20-103, states:

Except as provided in § 44-20-104, an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person, which shall include a corporation or partnership, shall not be liable for an injury to or the death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities. Except as provided in § 44-20-104, no participant or participant's representative shall make any claim against, maintain an action against, or recover from an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person for injury, loss, damage, or death of the participant resulting from any of the inherent risks of equine activities. 

The laws typically include a list of exceptions, many of which this blog has explained.

Lawsuits sometimes focus on whether a horse owner, professional, association, or stable owner qualifies as an “equine activity sponsor” and, if so, whether that person or entity is entitled to benefit from an EALA’s immunities. Last year, the Washington Court of Appeals considered this issue.

In the case, plaintiff and her 8 year-old daughter, Amanda, were interested in buying a horse named “Taz” from defendant Garrett. Garrett allowed them a two-week trial period. On the day of the incident, Amanda and her mother came to pick up “Taz” who, at the time, was stabled on property owned by Garrett’s fiancée, Glover. Amanda was allowed to ride “Taz” on Glover’s property, but while being led on the horse, she fell and was injured. She sued the horse owner (Garrett) and the property owner (Glover).

Defending against the lawsuit, Glover invoked the Washington Equine Activity Liability Act. That law states, in part, that an “equine activity sponsor or an equine professional shall not be liable for an injury to or the death of a participant engaged in an equine activity.” Glover asked the Court to dismiss the lawsuit because she was an “equine activity sponsor.” The plaintiff disagreed and argued that Glover could not be a “sponsor” because “sponsors” must engage in public, group-based equine activities and professional activities; here, by comparison, Glover was an average horse owner with a private, back yard facility.

Although the trial court refused to dismiss the case, the Washington Court of Appeals reversed. It noted that under the Washington EALA’s plain language, “an ‘equine activity sponsor’ includes an individual who provides the facilities for an equine activity.” Here, it was undisputed that Glover provided facilities to board “Taz.” The Court also explained that “[n]othing in the plain language of the statute requires the equine activity to be public or group-based in order to be covered under the statute. Further, while the equine activities listed in the definition of ‘equine activity sponsor’ are somewhat group-based in nature, that list is explicitly not exhaustive.”

The appellate court concluded that the case against her was properly dismissed under Washington’s EALA because Glover was an “equine activity sponsor” and none of the exceptions to immunity applied.

The case was: Glover v. Weber, 2014 Wash. App. LEXIS 2425 (Wash. App. 10/6/2014)