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COA addresses equine statute for first time

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Ruling on the state’s Equine Activity Statute for the first time, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the statute barred a woman’s claim for injuries during a horse competition.

Teresa Perry, an adult member of the Whitely County 4-H Clubs’ Equine Advisory Board, helped select the horses that were shown at a competition in the Show Barn. Horses weren’t allowed in the Show Barn except for this competition; they generally were in the Horse Barn, which is wider than the Show Barn.

When trying to help a child turn a horse around who was agitated, Perry was kicked in the knee and injured.

She sued because she believed the 4-H Club was negligent in holding the competition in the smaller Show Barn because the horses were closer together and since the horses aren’t used to the barn, they were more likely to get spooked.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the club based in part on the Equine Activity Statute, which provides that an equine activity sponsor is granted immunity under the statute if certain conditions are met. One of those conditions is that a sign must be posted warning that the grounds or building is the site of equine activity.

The 4-H Club had these signs on all entrances to the Horse Barn and Perry acknowledged that she had seen the signs. The club introduced photographic evidence of the signs and established a prima facie case it maintained the proper signs. Perry failed to come forward with evidence the signs were deficient, the appellate court ruled in Teresa Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., No. 92A03-1002-CT-101.

The appellate court also had to determine whether Perry’s injury resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities. There are several exceptions listed to the immunity spelled out in the statute, such as faulty equipment, but none of those applied in this case. The judges looked to other jurisdictions to determine whether and to what extent an equine activity sponsor may be liable for simple negligence alleged to have caused injury to a participant.

Indiana’s statute is silent on the place of sponsor negligence in the overall scheme of equine liability, noted Judge Margret Robb. But the judges concluded the General Assembly didn’t intend for the statute to abrogate the cause of action for common-law negligence of an activity sponsor.

“…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,” she wrote.

Perry’s injury falls under the statutory definition of inherent risks of equine activities.
 

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