Prior to the adoption of the Equine Activity Liability Act in North Carolina, codified in N.C. Gen. Stat. Ch. 99E, liability for harm to people by horses was determined with consideration for traditional injury law concepts. Primarily, these were assumption of risk and comparative negligence. That is, to what extend did the plaintiff assume the risk of activity with a large animal and to what extent did that person play a role in causing their own injuries.
However, the Equine Liability Act – which has been adopted in some form by 44 states – limits the amount of liability that equine professionals, owners and sponsors would bear in the event of injury or death to an individual by a horse.
The statute protects these potential defendants in cases where person engaged in equine activity suffers injury or death resulting form an inherent risk of the activity. This doesn’t include spectators, and it doesn’t cover potential defendants for providing unsafe equipment, unreasonable failures to make the activity safe or willful or wanton disregard for the safety of participants.
Point is, it can be challenging to bring a claim for a horse-related personal injury in North Carolina, but it’s not impossible.
A recent horse injury lawsuit was weighed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, stemming from a claim out of Puerto Rico. In Rivera-Carrasquillo v. Calderon-Lozano, plaintiff had prevailed on a claim for horse-related damages, but the federal appeals court remanded because the trial court’s reasoning on several issues could not be discerned based on the record.
According to court records, plaintiff suffered significant injuries when she was thrown from a rented horse while she and her husband were on a guided ride at a ranch just outside San Juan in July 2009. They filed a lawsuit against the ranch owner, and won. However on appeal, the federal district court characterized the trial and appellate arguments as “at times confusing” and justices were unable to figure out what the district court’s reasoning was for reaching the conclusions it did.
The first issue in dispute was the statute of limitations, and whether the claim should have been time-barred from the outset on this basis. Puerto Rico’s statute of limitations for injury lawsuits is just one year, but the question is when that clock started ticking. The law states it starts when plaintiff had knowledge of either the injury or the person who caused it. Plaintiff’s lawsuit was not filed until one year after the accident, but she alleges the clock didn’t begin ticking until later.
Although the property on which the accident occurred belonged to one individual, that person nor any of his employees owned the horse or assisted in the riding tour. That was a completely separate company, owned by the named defendant in this case. Defendant operated the business based on a five-year lease with the property owner.
Prior the ride, plaintiff signed a liability waiver releasing the defendant and property owner from liability.
At one point during the guided ride, one of the guides in the rear rode quickly passed the group, which had been moving in a line. That horse brushed against plaintiff’s horse, and the horse spooked, throwing her off.
Some months after the accident, defendant sold the business to a third party. Making matters more confusing, there was also a restaurant operating on site and another business, plus there was an insurance policy bought by the property owner that covered the restaurant, the property and the horse-riding venture. The property owner paid for it and other ventures in turn reimbursed him their share.
Plaintiffs ultimately filed a lawsuit against all of the entities, but they didn’t sue them all at the same time. Various parties were brought into litigation at different times, and that’s where the statutory time limit issue is called into question. It was not until discovery that plaintiffs became aware of the other entities, and even in that process, there were numerous erroneous facts regarding ownership and management of the various businesses.
At one point, the case was moved from state to federal court.
Ultimately, plaintiffs did prevail. But there were all sorts of issues. For one, defendants were referred to collectively as “defendant” – even though there would have needed to be separate theories of liability for each one. The jury instructions reflected this too.
After the trial, defendants sought review by the appeals court to find the claim was time-barred. However, the appeals court declined to “rely on guesswork as the jumping-off point for our analysis.”
Thus, the case was remanded for clarification.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Rivera-Carrasquillo v. Calderon-Lozano, Jan. 25, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First District
More Blog Entries:
Berkowitz v. Soper – $2 Million Accident Verdict Reversed, Jan. 24, 2016, Asheville Injury Attorney Blog