COA affirms denial of negligence instruction in horse-riding accident case

A woman who suffered a brain injury after a horse-riding accident did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that the trial court was wrong in ruling for the renter of a horse-training arena.

While riding her horse in a training area at Serenity Farms in Lowell, Indiana, Kathleen Burdick was seriously injured by another horse that was known to be aggressive.

Burdick alleged that while she was sitting on her horse, Chip, a horse owned by Julie Romano called Sheza kicked Burdick under the chin and knocked her out. Leading up to the accident, Burdick claimed that Romano had gotten off of Sheza, who is known to kick other horses and be aggressive, and walked away without tying her up. When Romano returned with a barrel for Sheza to perform a trick, the horse spooked and backed up, kicking Burdick and Chip.

However, Romano claimed that Chip had come to an abrupt stop, causing Burdick to lose her balance and fall off the saddle. Burdick ultimately sustained a broken shoulder and a brain injury, leading her to be awarded Social Security disability benefits as a result of her injuries.

When Burdick sued Romano for negligence, the Lake Circuit Court refused to read Burdick’s final instructions on premises liability, negligence, duty, and reasonable care.

It did, however, read Romano’s proposed instructions on incurred risk, inherent risks of equine activities, and sporting event injuries. A jury ultimately ruled that Burdick was 65% at fault for her injuries, while Romano was only 35% at fault.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the refusal of Burdick’s tendered instructions on negligence, finding that because the women were engaged in a sporting activity, Burdick was required to show that Romano was reckless and not merely negligent.

“…[C]ontrary to Burdick’s argument, this is not a simple ‘dog bite’ case but instead is a sporting activity case. Our courts have ruled that noncompetitive golf, practicing karate kicks, and riding a mountain bike on a trail are sporting activities. Accordingly, we cannot state that the trial court abused its discretion in determining that Burdick’s injuries occurred during a sporting event,” Judge James Kirsch wrote for the appellate court.

It also found that the evidence did not support an instruction for negligence and that an instruction on negligence could have confused and misled the jury about Burdick’s burden of proof.

Next, the appellate court found no abuse of discretion in instructing the jury on the inherent risks of equine activity, concluding that Burdick had waived her claim for failure to make a cogent argument.

Lastly, the appellate court found no abuse of discretion when the jury was instructed on incurred risk. Rather, it pointed out that the evidence supported such an instruction despite Burdick’s claims to the contrary.

“Burdick is mistaken that the incurred risk at issue was Romano’s decision to dismount Sheza and leave Sheza untied and unattended. Instead, the risk at issue was Sheza’s tendency to kick other horses,” the appellate court wrote.

“… She also admitted that being kicked by a horse was a risk of the sport and conceded that as a horse expert she knew all the risks associated with horse-related sporting activities,” it continued. “Therefore, because the evidence supported the incurred risk instruction, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by reading the instruction to the jury.”

The case is Kathleen Burdick and Bruce Burdick, Individually, and as Husband and Wife v. Julie Romano, 19A-CT-2739.

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