California Court Finds Plaintiff Assumed Risk Inherent in Horseback Endurance Riding, Not Entitled to Compensation for Injuries Caused by Defendant’s Horse

California personal injury attorneys understand that individuals who participate in certain sports may place themselves at risk of injury. In a recent personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff had alleged that the defendant’s negligent, reckless, or intentional misconduct harmed her.  She also alleged that the defendant had an animal with a dangerous propensity. The facts indicate that the plaintiff suffered injuries while endurance horseback riding, and the issue before the California appellate court was whether the plaintiff had assumed the risk inherent in horseback riding, which would bar her claim for recovery.  Additionally, the court examined whether the plaintiff had met her burden of showing there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding the defendant’s alleged recklessness.

Both the plaintiff and the defendant participated in an organized endurance horseback riding event, with approximately 50 other riders.  While stopped at a required checkpoint, the defendant’s horse struck the plaintiff while she was standing on the ground. She suffered injuries and brought this lawsuit against the defendant. After the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, she appealed.

On appeal, the court examined whether the defendant met the burden of persuasion that one or more elements of the plaintiff’s cause of action could not be established, or there was a complete defense to the cause of action. If the defendant meets their burden of production, showing that there is not a triable issue of material fact, the burden of production shifts to the plaintiff to show a remaining triable issue of fact.

The court stated that primary assumption of risk barred the plaintiff’s claims for negligence.  First, the court made clear that the issue of duty, or reasonable care, requires that each person is liable for injuries when they fail to exercise such care. A defendant may assert primary assumption of risk as a defense when a plaintiff has been injured due to an inherent risk in an activity in which the plaintiff chose to participate.

Primary assumption of risk does not require that a plaintiff appreciates the risks of an activity; instead, the issue is whether those risks are “inherent.”  In the current case, the court analyzed whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty at the endurance riding event.  The central question was whether the risk of being struck by a co-participant’s horse was inherent to the ride and to endurance riding. The court noted that assumption of risk applies to any recreational activity involving an inherent risk of injury to participants, regardless of whether endurance horseback riding is a “sport.”

Turning to negligence law, the court stated that primary assumption of the risk barred the plaintiff’s negligence claim because the risk of being hurt by another participant’s horse when endurance riding is inherent to the activity.  They rejected the plaintiff’s contention that endurance riding is not a contact sport, noting that baseball is a non-contact sport and carries inherent risks of physical contact.  They also stated that their conclusion aligns with precedent, holding that horseback riding is an inherently dangerous sport, to which primary assumption of risk rules apply.

The facts, according to the court, indicated that the defendant’s horse bumped the plaintiff’s horse, and the defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care to protect her from the risk that was inherent in the type of harm she suffered. In fact, the defendant owed a duty not to intentionally injure the plaintiff and not to increase that inherent risk of horseback riding.   The court also rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the defendant was grossly negligent because as participants, the nature of the event was such that horses were tailgating one another, and this conduct was not outside the normal range of activity inherent in the sport.

Finally, the court rejected the plaintiff’s allegation that the defendant rode his horse into the area and was aware of the dangerous propensities of his horse before the accident.  Again, the court stated that the horse’s conduct was not outside the range of ordinary activity in endurance riding.

The appellate court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendant.

The personal injury lawyers at Sharifi Firm represent Southern California residents in need of legal representation and guidance following an accident.  Our office provides a complimentary, no-obligation consultation and can be reached by calling (866) 422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds Proprietors of Horse Ranch Do Not Have Duty to Reduce Inherent Risk of Horseback Riding, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, December 31, 2015

California Court Holds Primary Assumption of Risk Bars Negligence Claim in Recreational Swimming Pool Accident Lawsuit Because Swimming Presents Inherent Risk of Drowning and Injury, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 21, 2016

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