When an equine activity liability statute is amended, are the amendments retroactive to the date when the law was initially passed? Or, do the amendments take effect going forward?

If an equine-related accident occurs before an equine activity liability act becomes the law, can the court apply the (after-enacted) law?

Courts around the country have examined these issues. This article addresses two cases.

Equine Statute Amended - Michigan Case

In a 2016 Michigan case, the plaintiff, a minor, took part in a trail ride while attending a horseback riding camp at the defendant’s horse ranch. During the ride, the plaintiff’s assigned horse spooked and ran off. The plaintiff fell from the horse and was injured. After this incident occurred, Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act was amended to remove its “negligence” exception for “equine professionals.” The amendment stated that the “equine professional’s” act or omission must constitute "a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant" as well as be a proximate cause of the injury, death or damage. The trial court granted the defendant ranch's motion to dismiss the case, but the plaintiff appealed.

Among the issues before the appellate court on appeal was whether the amended law could be applied retroactively to benefit the defendant equine professional. It could not, the Court noted, because the amendments took effect after the accident had already occurred.

Equine Statute Newly Enacted – Florida Case

In a 1997 Florida case, the defendant stable assigned the plaintiff, a 14 year-old summer camper, a horse for a trail ride. The horse allegedly went out of control and collided with a tree, causing the plaintiff to sustain injuries. On the strength of Florida’s Equine Activity Liability Act, the trial court dismissed the case, but the appellate court reversed. In doing so, it found that the statute had not taken effect at the time of the accident and was wrongly applied retroactively.