Legal Rights Injured by a Rental Horse?
Hi. I’m Indiana personal injury attorney David Holub.
Personal injury or wrongful death cases involving horses are different from other animal injury cases. Why? Because horse injury cases typically involve a horse that is hired out.
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 it, when it is where it has a “right to be” and it acts viciously.
If a gentle horse, in the care of its owner, suddenly and unexpectedly inflicts injury 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.
In nearly every wild west town movie set there is a saloon, and a livery stable. 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 that of a bailor and bailee for hire, and the bailor assumes the liability which a contract for bailment imposes. [If the word bailment is new to you, it simply is a term to describe what you do when you let 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 horse which is reasonably fit and suitable for the purpose for which it is rented, and 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 contract on 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 such a horse, 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 defective bridle.
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 an equine statute that limits liability for injuries caused by a horse and provides that liability may be precluded for certain inherent risks, namely:
- The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.
- The unpredictability of an equine’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 as changed very little since the late 1800s.
If you would like to learn more about personal injury law, we encourage you to listen to our Personal Injury Primer Podcast or read our book “Fighting For Truth: A Trial Lawyer’s Insight Into What It Takes To Win”.