A recent opinion from the Kentucky Supreme Court will assist Kentucky horsemen when offering riding horses for sale. The sale of horses for riding use is a common facet of the horse business in Kentucky, and test-rides are frequently part of the sale process. A test-ride, however, opens the door to unique liability issues. In 1996, the General Assembly enacted the Farm Animals Activity Act (“FAAA”), which dictated that the inherent risks associated with farm animals, including horses, are beyond the reasonable control of farm animal activity sponsors, professionals, or other involved persons. However, this statute left several exceptions permitting liability on the table. Until recently, no published case law in Kentucky provided any guidance as to the application of these exceptions. In August 2018, the Kentucky Supreme Court clarified the FAAA exceptions involved with a potential buyer riding a sales horse in Daugherty v. Tabor.
In this case, Daugherty and partner Adleta marketed horses for sale from their Daugherty Stables located in southern Kentucky. Tabor, a prospective horse buyer, contacted Adleta through an online advertisement about purchasing several riding horses for herself and three other individuals of varying riding experience. During communications prior to Tabor visiting the farm, Tabor represented herself as an experienced rider and indicated that two of the horses could be advanced, but the remainder should be suitable for beginner riders. When Tabor arrived at the farm to test-ride the horses, she watched a stable employee warm up “Flash” to see whether he would be suitable. She continued to represent herself as an experienced rider and rode several horses prior to Flash without incident. Once mounted on Flash, Tabor lost control of the horse as he bolted back to the barn. According to Tabor, the stable employees attempted to flag the horse down by waving their arms, which she claimed caused him to change course and gallop another direction in a frenzy. Daugherty claims instead that Tabor lost control of Flash and did not take proper action behind the reins to stop him. Further, Daugherty claims to have walked to Flash after Tabor lost control but denies that he or his employees waved their arms or tried to corner Flash in any way. Either way, Tabor fell from Flash during her test ride and suffered serious injuries, including fractures, and filed suit against Daugherty, claiming that the farm breached its duties under the FAAA.
The Kentucky Supreme Court recognized that there are instances where farm animal activity professionals have duties to prevent injury and limit liability. The recognized duties include posting warning signs, making sure prospective riders are reasonably suited for riding the farm animals, and refraining from negligent, willful or wanton acts that cause the participant’s injury. Specific to Tabor, the farm animal activity professionals were required to post the statutorily-required warning signs, as well as make a reasonable inquiry into Tabor’s ability to manage riding Flash. Daugherty Stables posted the Kentucky Equine Liability warning sign on its grounds as required by the FAAA. Next, the FAAA’s standard for reasonableness in assessing a rider’s ability is whether the farm animal professional “determined the ability of the participant to engage safely in the farm animal activity and to safely manage the particular farm animal based on the participant’s representations of the participant’s ability.” In the Tabor case, Tabor represented herself from the outset as an experienced rider, despite her later testimony that she exaggerated. The Court found that this representation was sufficient to satisfy any duty that Daugherty had to reasonably determine she was suitable to ride Flash, especially as Flash was a trained horse without any prior propensity for spirited behavior. Further, even if stable employees were waving their hands at Flash, this would not constitute any breach of duty based on the very language in the FAAA [namely, the unpredictability of the reaction of a farm animal to sounds, sudden movements, and unfamiliar persons]. The Court went so far as to state that it was “inappropriate” for the Kentucky Court of Appeals to contradict the statute and suggest liability for allegedly raising or waving one’s arms, as the statute includes “sudden movements” within the definition of “inherent risks of farm animal activities” assumed by farm animal activity participants like Tabor. Liability for arm-raising (if any occurred) or other sudden movements or for Flash’s unpredictable behavior is abrogated by the language in the FAAA.
In Daugherty v. Tabor, the Kentucky Supreme Court offered helpful guidance for individuals involved in the buying and selling of horses. Beyond posting the Kentucky Equine Liability warning sign, those involved with selling horses should make reasonable inquiries in the potential buyer’s abilities based on the potential buyer’s representations of his or her own ability, and refrain from those behaviors identified as negligent, willful or wanton. While the Court stopped short of defining these behaviors in full, it did show that the Court recognizes the unpredictability of horses and the reasonable steps in reacting to a horse behaving unpredictably. As the FAAA applies to all farm animal activity professionals, another similar area where this case provides guidance is for those riding instructors who provide horses for use by individuals taking riding lessons. Here, riding instructors should also take note of the Daugherty v. Tabor analysis, as a determination of suitability of the rider would be nearly identical. While the FAAA provides broad protection in equine activities, decisions like Daugherty v. Tabor are necessary to provide additional guidance for those in the industry when engaging in day-to-day activities with these unpredictable animals.