SUCCESS STORY

Lack of Evidence for an Erroneous Equestrian

SFE Attorney: Kyle Riley

Plaintiff Attorney: Mark Wilner

City, Co., State: Snohomish County Superior Court, Washington

Claims Alleged: Personal Injury

Injuries Alleged: Multiple – Back fracture

Admitted Liability: No

Amount Claimed: In excess of $5 million

Brief Overview – Hero, Situation, Pain, Outcome

Smith Freed Eberhard partner, Kyle Riley, defended a ranch in a case involving a plaintiff who had fallen off of a horse while riding during a training lesson at the ranch. Ultimately, Kyle was able to get the claims against the ranch dismissed, and removed his client from the action.

The Background

A female HR executive (the plaintiff) was taking horse riding lessons from a training company that operated at a local ranch. The ranch was a boarding facility that also provided an arena for trainers to train horses and riders. The training company and the ranch were limited liability companies with the same owner. The plaintiff leased a horse from another student, and the owner of the two companies allegedly facilitated the lease, although he received no commission or payment for his services.

About a month after leasing the horse, the plaintiff was training with the training company when the horse spooked and the plaintiff was bucked off the horse. The plaintiff sustained a burst fracture in her spine, requiring surgery and testified that she had ongoing neurological problems. The medical bills exceeded $200,000. 

The plaintiff sued the ranch, the training company and the owner of the horse, alleging that the horse had dangerous tendencies that were not disclosed, including an alleged tendency to spook. The plaintiff indicated that she would be seeking up to $5 million in recovery, which greatly exceeded the ranch’s insurance policy.

Plaintiffs Theme

Plaintiff focused on proving the ranch was liable for her injuries through the fact that the training occurred there, and that her horse was leased from an employee there and boarded there. To argue that the ranch had the apparent authority to make representations about the horse, the plaintiff pointed out that the ranch’s website contained links to horses for sale or lease. She also had submitted the email signature of the owner that referenced the ranch and the training company, as well as a requirement in the lease that the horse be boarded at the ranch.

Our Strategy

After the completion of depositions of fact witnesses and a mediation where other parties settled, Kyle argued a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal for lack of apparent authority, immunity under the equine immunity statute, and enforcement of the liability release.

Kyle enforced these arguments by enforcing the fact that plaintiff knew she was dealing with two different companies and that plaintiff understood the difference in services provides by them. In fact, she was even billed separately. Plaintiff’s knowledge of the ranches role of strictly boarding, feeding, and cleaning the horses was also a fatal point Kyle reiterated. Kyle’s ability to focus the court on the fact that plaintiff knew she was dealing with a different company with respect to the horse proved to be rewarding.

The Outcome

Ultimately, the court agreed with Kyle’s position that there was no evidence to conclude that the plaintiff had in fact relied on the ranch’s website and email signature to determine that the owner was acting on behalf of the ranch. They also determined that the condition to board the horse at the ranch was a condition imposed by the owner of the horse, not by the owner of the ranch, therefore dismissing the ranch from the suit.

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