Friday, September 14, 2018

                                                Notes On Equine Activity Risk Management
                                                              DOES THAT HORSE BITE?
                                                               By Gary D. Malfeld, Esquire

Dear Readers:

As most of you know, the Florida Equine Activities Liability Act limits “ the liability of Florida’s equine facilities for injuries resulting from inherent risks associated with equine activities”.  A participant in such an activity shall not have “a claim against . . . an equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or any other person for injury. . . of the participant from any of the inherent risks of equine activities.”

An equine activity is “riding, training, assisting in veterinary treatment, driving, or being a passenger upon an equine, whether mounted or unmounted, visiting or touring or utilizing an equine facility as part of an organized event or activity, or any person assisting a participant or show management.”

You are not engaging in an equine activity if you are merely a spectator at an equine activity unless you put yourself in an unauthorized area.  Being merely a spectator is the one specific exception to being a participant.

In the last couple of years  (September 7, 2016) the Third District Court of Appeal which decides appeals from Miami-Dade County trial court cases reviewed a case brought in the trial court by a retired jockey, Patrick Germer.   In the case of Germer v. Churchill Downs Management, Inc. and others.  Germer sued Churchill Downs Management and several other entities because of a incident in which Germer had visited Calder Race Course with his roommate to look at his roommate’s horse in a stable at Calder. On his way through the barn to see the roommate’s horse, a horse named Forever Happy (perhaps named inappropriately) jumped out of his stall and bit Germer in the chest.  Germer sued multiple parties for damages.  The trial court said Germer’s fact pattern was such that the Florida Equine Activities Liability Act protected the defendants from liability because Germer  was engaged in an equine activity at the time he was bitten.

The appeals court had to answer the question whether Germer was a participant engaged in an organized equine event or activity when he was bitten. 

The Calder facility management maintained an internal policy that required security passes in order to access the stable areas where Germer’s injury occurred.  Germer had to get a paper visitor’s pass issued by security to have access.

From the perspective and ruling of the appeals court, “the creation and existence of such a protocol constituted the requisite ‘organization’ so as to make Germer’s visit to the stables ‘an organized activity’ as defined in section 773.01(1) of the Florida Statutes.”

So Germer lost on appeal.  The Activities Liability Act protected the entities connected to the occurrence at the  Calder facility.

On a related matter, I assume that all of you sponsoring equine activities or who are equine professionals already post the following warning notice or an equivalent notice:

Under Florida law, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.
§773.04(2), Fla. Stat. (2012).

                                           MOUNT UP, LADIES AND DUDES!