Slip and fall cases are unfortunately all too common at equine facilities. Here's a look at what makes these locations so dangerous for workers and riders, how to tell if you may be in need of legal help, and how to reduce your risk of injury. And if you own a horse barn or business, you may want to take heed and save yourself the trouble of a potential lawsuit.
Equine establishments can be dangerous work and recreational environments. There are a host of things that can contribute to accidents:
- Horses are unpredictable animals and can spook easily at seemingly innocuous things.
- Horse muck in stalls or paddocks is slippery.
- Many people ride in rainy or wintry conditions.
- Tack and gear can be worn or broken and is sometimes shared by multiple riders.
- Even if your horse is well behaved and sure footed, other riders' mounts may not be.
- Horse barns are frequently full of lofts, ladders, ramps, and stacks of hay bales.
A slip or fall in an equine facility can be complicated by the element of height (such as falling from a hay loft or from atop a horse), as well as by further danger from a horse's legs and hoofs. Every year there are fatalities involving horses in the US.
Most of the time a slip or fall in a horse barn doesn't have serious consequences. However, sometimes an accident can result in permanent injury, lost wages, and high medical expenses. If someone else is at fault in the case of an injury, that person may be responsible for compensating the injured party.
In deciding if someone is at fault and how much they must pay (if anything), the court looks at whether negligence or gross negligence occurred. While states differ slightly in their definitions of these terms, basically negligence involves an unintentional and unwitting liability on someone's part, whereas gross negligence means the person willfully or knowingly was liable for the accident.
For example, imagine you are working as a groom at a facility and the owner is unaware that a rung on the ladder to the hay loft is broken. If you fall and break your ankle, the owner may be found negligent. If someone told the owner about the ladder and they refused to fix it, letting you use it anyway, that could be considered gross negligence. Most courts are more likely to find fault and award damages or compensation in the second type of example.
The best way to avoid legal issues with slip and fall cases is to reduce your risk from the start:
- Call attention to areas of risk, whether you are a rider or a worker, and document your request to mitigate the risk.
- Refuse to ride or work in unsafe conditions.
- Always wear appropriate protective gear for your activity, such as riding helmets, boots, and vests.
- If you travel to different facilities to work or compete, check out the "scene safety," as EMTs call it, before climbing in the saddle.
- Join a union or draw up a contract that protects your safety in equine work environments.
If you think you have been the victim of a negligent owner, trainer, or other party and have been seriously injured by slipping or falling at a horse barn, it's a good idea to seek legal counsel. An attorney familiar with these types of cases, such as Putnam Lieb, can evaluate the situation and perhaps help you recoup lost income or medical expenses.
Even if you have signed a liability waiver, this may not be enforceable, and your attorney may be able to lift liability limitations in certain circumstances, such as gross negligence.
Hopefully, you ride or work in a safe horse environment, but if you think you could be the victim of negligence, it's best to get a second opinion. You're not only protecting yourself, you're protecting other riders and workers in the future.