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Owners of spooked horse entitled to summary judgment in negligence suit

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the owners of a horse that trampled a man after getting loose at the Marshall County 4-H Fairgrounds didn’t have reason to know the horse had any dangerous propensities prior to the accident. The court affirmed summary judgment in a negligence lawsuit on the issue.

John Einhorn, president of the 4-H Marshall County Horse & Pony Advisory Committee, was injured after he was trampled by Clu, a horse owned by Scott and Gretchen Johnson. Their daughter was riding Clu in the practice arena at the fairgrounds when he was spooked and bucked several times, throwing her off. When trying to calm the horse down, he took off. Einhorn saw Clu on the run and ended up in the horse’s path. Einhorn sustained severe injuries.

Einhorn received nearly $80,000 in medical benefits from Purdue University’s workers’ compensation carrier; he was working as an unpaid volunteer at the fair. He and his wife sued the Johnsons, Purdue University and the county 4-H Fair Association, alleging negligence. Purdue and the fair association are equine activity sponsors under Indiana law.

The trial court granted Purdue’s motion to dismiss and summary judgment motions filed by the defendants. In John Einhorn and Roxanne Einhorn v. Scott Johnson, Gretchen Johnson, Purdue University Board of Trustees, et al., 50A03-1303-CT-93, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Einhorns that John Einhorn was not Purdue’s employee, so he is not precluded from bringing the civil action against the university. He is not bound by the exclusivity provision of the Worker’s Compensation Act because he accepted medical payments from the school’s workers’ compensation carrier, Judge Edward Najam wrote.

But the judges agreed with the trial court that Purdue and the 4-H Fair Association are immune from liability under the Equine Activity Statute as a matter of law. The designated evidence shows Einhorn’s injuries stemmed from an inherent risk of equine activities. The judges also affirmed summary judgment for the Johnsons. Clu’s bucking under the circumstances isn’t evidence of a dangerous propensity as a matter of law and there’s no evidence he had ever shown a tendency to buck prior to the incident, so the Einhorns can’t show that the Johnsons breached a duty of care.

 

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