Bucking the Odds of Failure in a Maine Horse Injury Lawsuit

Horse injury lawsuits in Maine have been an uphill battle ever since a 1999 change to the state’s equine liability law. M.R.S.A. Title 7, Part 9, ch.743 s.4103-A on Liability for Equine Activities limits the liability of any horse activity sponsor, professional or anyone else engaged in equine activity for personal injury or death of participants or spectators that result from inherent risks of such activities – other than specific statutory exceptions. It’s incumbent on participants to be responsible for knowing their own limits in managing, caring for or controlling a horse, and they’re responsible for heeding all warnings and must refrain from doing anything that might cause or contribute to an injury.

Still, as noted in a 2010 ruling by the U.S. District Court in Maine, “There does not appear to be any legislative history to suggest that the current version of the Maine Equine Activities Act, which was amended in 1999, was meant to repudiate any possibility of a negligence action arising in the context of equine activities.” In other words, just because Maine injury lawsuits filed as a result of horse-related activities are now more difficult, it does not mean the possibility of prevailing is altogether eliminated. An experienced Bangor injury lawyer should be able to further discuss your legal rights.

Recently, the Bangor Daily News reported on a Maine injury lawsuit filed by parents of a New York girl against a farm in Maine, accused of negligence in running a horse-riding tour that during a 2016 visit caused the girl to be thrown from a horse. She suffered a broken skull and spine. It was the girl’s first time riding a horse. The family alleges medical bills have exceeded $680,000 and she continues to suffer physical and mental impact.

Another recent Maine horse injury case was reported at a fair in Fryeburg, where officials say a 59-year-old man suffered a head injury after a horse stepped on him during a pulling event — a competition featuring horses and oxen pulling weights behind them.

As Bangor injury attorneys can explain, historically injury caused by horses was dictated by common law and traditional tort concepts, including the assumption of risk doctrine and comparative negligence. In the 1990s, though, 44 states – Maine included – modified common law by adopting Equine Activity Liability Act provisions to limit liability, citing the benefit state’s derive from these activities as well as the unpredictability of horse behavior, which can lead to serious injury. Prior to the adoption of these laws, many states, including Maine, had moved from contributory liability theories, which banned many cases on the assumption of risk theory, to comparative liability, which takes into account the percentage of plaintiff’s own negligence and reduces the damage award proportionally. This resulted in increased litigation that lawmakers alleged threatened equine-based businesses.

The Maine Farm Bureau Horse Counsel reports there are an estimated 35,000 horses in Maine working, racing, providing recreation and assisting with rehabilitation and therapy. The total impact on Maine’s economy, in terms of sales, jobs and income is estimated to be about $500 million annually, generating roughly $27 million in state tax revenue.

In the 2010 federal lawsuit, the district court affirmed a magistrate’s refusal to grant summary judgment to a horse farm defendant in a case where a girl was taking riding lessons in an enclosed ring when she fell from the horse. The use of a fleece-lined girth on the horse was a point of contention, with expert witnesses on either side contending these particular types of saddles using fleece made them more prone to slip. After the accident, it was noted the saddle had slipped from its proper position. Defendants argued the state’s equine liability act shielded them, but the federal court disagreed. The court found her claim did not allege plaintiff’s negligence made the horse act like a horse. Rather, her claim involved one of the noted exceptions, alleging defendants exposed themselves to liability by providing faulty tack or equipment.

If you have been injured, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Zuckerman v. Coastal Camps Inc., June 4, 2010, U.S. District Court District of Maine

More Blog Entries:

Maine UTV Accident Illustrates Risks of All-Terrain Vehicle Injuries, Aug. 16, 2018, Bangor Maine Injury Attorney Blog

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