Appellate Court Upholds Summary Judgment in Horse Bite Personal Injury Case

In Germer v. The Churchill Downs Management, et al., the plaintiff was a former horseback racing jockey. In September 2012, the plaintiff and his roommate visited the Santa Cruz Ranch in Ocala, Florida to see the roommate’s horse. Although the plaintiff was a licensed jockey, his license was expired at the time they went to visit the ranch so he was required to obtain a guest license before he could enter the stables. When the pair walked through the stable, a horse that did not belong to the roommate jumped out of its stall and bit the plaintiff in the chest.

Roughly 18 months later, the plaintiff filed a legal action against the stable owners as well as the owner of the horse that bit him. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that all of the defendants acted negligently when it came to maintaining and housing the horse that bit him, thereby resulting in his injuries. In response to the complaint, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment relying on Florida Statutes chapter 773 arguing that this provision provided immunity to the defendants. More specifically, they contended that the plaintiff was a “participant engaged in an equine activity” and that as a result, the statute precluded him from recovering damages. The trial court agreed with the defendants and granted the motion for summary judgment.

On appeal to the Third District Court of Appeals, the appellate court first discussed the particularities of section 773.02. This provision provides, in relevant part, that “an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person . . . shall not be liable for an injury to . . . a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” Participants are defined under the statute as people who engage in equine activities regardless of their experience levels and regardless of whether they pay a fee to join in the activity. Additionally, “engages in equine activity” includes a wide variety of tasks, including training, riding, assisting in veterinary treatment, riding, mounting, or visiting or touring a facility as part of an organized event or activity.

The appellate court framed the key issue as whether the plaintiff was visiting the facility as part of an organized event or activity at the time of the alleged negligence. According to the plaintiff, his visit at the stable was not part of an organized activity because he and his roommate decided spontaneously to see the horse and the visit was not coordinated in advance with the stable. The defendants argued that the plaintiff’s need to obtain a guest pass rendered the visit an organized event. The appellate court agreed with the defendant’s approach, finding that the plaintiff was required a permit and seek approval to visit the stable before entering the facility, rendering it an organized visit.

If you have suffered injuries as the result of a recreational facility’s negligence or failure to use due care in ensuring your safety, you may be entitled to compensation. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano we have provided seasoned legal advice to injury victims throughout Southwest Florida, including Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers. In a state like Florida where a wide variety of recreational activities are popular, injuries are common. It is important to understand your legal rights in these situations and to hold a wrongdoer responsible for your injuries. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 1-800=283-7442 or contact us online.

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