Provider Not Liable Due to Equine Activity Liability Statute

This recent case is intended to complement and supplement the excellent article Landowner Liability Under Equine and Recreational Use Statutes written by Holly Rudolph (also published today on this site). This illustrative case,  summarized and abridged by Doyice Cotten, clearly illustrates the importance of state Equine Activity Liability Statutes to providers of equine activities. The reader is invited to read the case in its entirety for more information.


2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

August 16, 2010, Decided

The 4-H Club held horse practices and competitions at the Whitley County Fairgrounds as part of the Whitley County Fair. These events were generally held in the 4-H Club’s Horse Barn, but one event, the Large Animal Round Robin Competition, was held in the 4-H Club’s Show Barn, located next to the Horse Barn. The Horse Barn is over 100 feet wide but the Show Barn is considerably smaller. Horses were generally familiar with the Horse Barn but unfamiliar with the Show Barn. At all entrances to the Horse Barn, the 4-H Club had posted “Equine Activity warning signs” that were “clearly visible.

As part of the event, seven horses were led from the Horse Barn into the Show Barn and lined up approximately two and one-half feet apart along the shorter side of the Show Barn. The horses were then turned over to children who did not normally handle horses, but had some instruction.   One child left the horse facing away from the center of the Show Barn, in the opposite direction from the neighboring horses and with its rear next to the head of a neighboring horse. The horse facing backwards began sniffing the rear of the neighboring horse, which pinned its ears against its head as a sign it was agitated. Perry realized this situation posed a danger and approached the child and told the child to turn the horse around. As the child was doing so, the neighboring horse kicked  Perry in the knee.

Perry filed a complaint against the 4-H Club alleging her injuries were caused by the 4-H Club’s negligence in “allowing horse activities to be conducted on premises unsuitable for such activities.” As specifically argued by Perry at the summary judgment hearing, she alleged the 4-H Club was negligent in deciding to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn, thereby requiring horses to be placed close together. Among the 4-H Club’s affirmative defenses, it alleged in its answer that Perry’s claim was barred by the Indiana Equine Activity Statute and moved for summary judgment based in part on the Equine Activity Statute. The trial court found and concluded in relevant part that 1- The [4-H Club] was a sponsor of an equine activity when the accident occurred; 2- [Perry] was a participant in the equine activity in her capacity as a safe keeper when she approached the horses and was kicked; 3- The Equine Activities Act . . . is applicable to this case; 4- Being kicked by a horse is an inherent risk of equine activity; and 5- There is no that [the 4-H Club] committed an act or omission which constituted a reckless disregard for the safety of others. [Indiana Code section] 34-31-5-2

The appellate court addressed plaintiff’s claim that the club had not comply with the warning sign requirement of the statute since the signs were in the horse barn, but not the show barn. The Equine Activity Statute provides that an equine activity sponsor, as a condition precedent to immunity under the statute, must post and maintain a warning sign in at least one location “on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a)I. The sign “must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity,” and the warning must be printed in letters at least one inch in height. Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(b), (c). The warning must state:

“Under Indiana law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-5.

The court held that the requirement was met by the signs in the horse barn.

Perry also argued that her injuries not resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities, but from the negligence of the club.

The Equine Activity Statute provides:

Subject to section 2 of this chapter, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for:

(1) an injury to a participant; or (2) the death of a participant resulting from an inherent risk of equine activities.

The definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” is:

the dangers or conditions that are an integral part of equine activities, including the following:

(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.

(2) The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals.

(3) Hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions.

(4) Collisions with other equines or objects.

(5) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the  [*12] animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.

Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. The Equine Activity Statute further provides:

Section 1 of this chapter does not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor . . .:

(1) who:

(A) provided equipment or tack that was faulty and that caused the injury; and

(B) knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty;

(2) who provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts based on the participant’s representations of the participant’s ability to:

(A) determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity; and

(B) determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine;

(3) who:

(A) was in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities on which the participant sustained injuries; and

(B) knew or should have known of the dangerous latent condition that caused the injuries;

if warning signs concerning the latent dangerous condition were not conspicuously posted on the land or in the facilities;

(4) who committed an act or omission that:

(A) constitutes reckless disregard for the safety of the participant; and

(B) caused the injury; or

(5) who intentionally  [*13] injured the participant.

Initially we note that negligence of an equine activity sponsor neither is one of the exceptions to immunity listed in Section 2(b), nor is it included in the non-exclusive list of inherent risks of equine activity under Indiana Code section 34-6-2-69. Thus, Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute, like equine activity  [*15] statutes in some states but unlike some others, is silent on the place of sponsor negligence in the overall scheme of equine liability. We conclude the Equine Activity Statute was not intended by the general assembly  to abrogate the cause of action for common-law negligence of an equine activity sponsor. However, pursuant to the clear text of the statute, a negligence action is precluded if the injury resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities and the facts do not fit one of the exceptions to immunity provided by Section 2(b). Stated differently, if none of the Section 2(b) exceptions apply, then an equine activity sponsor is not liable for failing to use reasonable care to mitigate an already inherent risk of equine activities that ultimately resulted in a participant’s injury.

In sum, the facts viewed most favorably to Perry as the party opposing summary judgment show her injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities and the 4-H Club was negligent, if at all, only for failing to mitigate those inherent risks. Therefore, the trial court properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim and properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club. The court concluded by saying that there was no issue of fact that the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute and that Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities. Therefore, Perry’s claim is barred by the Equine Activity Statute and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.