We’ve already told you that in New Jersey, it’s en vogue to doctors when mother nature is unavailable for questioning.
In an encouraging decision reached this week, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court said that you can’t sue a stable owner when fauna is at fault.
New Jersey’s equestrian industry is one of the state’s key economic drivers, generating over $1 billion annually and providing jobs for 13,000 people. As such, the Legislature sought to protect horseback-riding stables from being held civilly liable for most wayward actions of horses. The 1996 “Equine Activities Liability Act” gives stable owners “as near an absolute immunity as possible,” according to Michael Booth, writing for the New Jersey Law Journal. Exceptions would include matching an inexperienced rider with an inappropriate horse, knowingly providing broken tackle, or injuries caused by deteriorating grounds. And these exceptions, the Supreme Court held in Hubner v. Spring Valley Equestrian Center, are to be exactly that – exceptions.
Writing for the Court, said Justice Helen Hoens reminds us that horseback riding itself can be an unpredictable, and sometimes dangerous, activity. “The Equine Act establishes a line between the inherent risks assumed by participants and conditions within a facility’s control,” she said. “The demonstrated legislative intent is that the sections defining assumed risks would be read broadly in favor of operators, while their obligations would be read narrowly… the Legislature considered the unpredictable nature of horses and the dangers posed by the terrain over which they are ridden.”
Hubner was seated on a horse in the fall of 2005 when the horse inexplicably backed up and tripped over cavaletti. Her attorney argued that the cavaletti was negligently arranged, which caused her to break several bones after the horse tripped and ejected her. The justices found the cavaletti (poles that are used to simulate obstacles a horse and rider typically encounter on a trail) to be in good working order.
So, one can’t sue mother nature. And the Supreme Court acknowledged that the equestrian industry and New Jersey’s economy shouldn’t have to pick up the tab, either.