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Due Care in Providing a Horse

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question comes from a listener whose child was injured riding a horse while at a child care center, and the bills are mounting, but they heard that the supplier of a horse may sometimes be able to avoid being held legally liable.

Personal injury or wrongful death cases involving horses differ from other animal injury cases. Why? — Because horse injury cases typically involve a horse that is hired out to perform a service, such as pulling a carriage.

A horse injury can be like a dog-bite case, though, where a person gets hurt by an ill-tempered or vicious horse encountered in a pasture or stable that kicks or bites.

In this situation, like dog bite cases, the general rule is that the owner of an animal not known to be vicious is not liable for injuries caused by the animal when the animal is in a restricted environment and acts viciously.

Suppose a gentle horse, in the care of its owner, suddenly and unexpectedly inflicts injury. In that case, the owner is not generally liable if due care was exercised.

To understand horse liability issues, it helps to think about western movies you might have watched.

You will find a saloon, a sheriff’s office, and a livery stable in most wild west town movies. The livery stable is where the horses are kept. The operator of the livery stable is called a liveryman.

The relationship between a liveryman (one who rents out a horse) and the customer is a bailor and bailee for hire. The bailor assumes the liability which a contract for bailment imposes. The term bailment simply describes the practice of letting someone use your goods or property while you hold onto the ownership title of the property.

Under the law, the liveryman owes a duty of ordinary care and diligence to furnish a reasonably fit and suitable horse for the purpose for which it is rented. The liveryman is liable for a breach of that duty.

Basically, an action to recover damages for personal injuries caused by a hired horse will focus on three potential theories of liability:

  • negligence in renting a horse not suitable for the individual plaintiff;
  • breach of an implied warranty of fitness of the horse for the purpose for which it was rented; and
  • liability on the ground that the horse was vicious and the defendant knew the horse to be vicious.

Other grounds for liability include failure to exercise reasonable care to provide a mount suitable for the particular plaintiff. Such as renting a high-spirited horse to a person unskilled in managing horses, where the defendant should have provided a gentle and easy to handle horse.

Another ground for negligence is a failure to properly equip the rental horse. Failing to securely fasten the saddle.  Or providing defective tack, such as a defective bridle or saddle.

Negligence may involve the liveryman’s failure to carefully supervise an inexperienced rider, usually a child, even though the animal is generally gentle.

Indiana has a statute that limits liability for injuries caused by a horse and provides that liability may be precluded for certain inherent risks, namely:

  • The horse’s propensity to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the horse.
  • The unpredictability of a horse’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals.

Even though we no longer live in the wild west, the law governing liability for injuries involving horses has changed very little since the late 1800s.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at www.DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.