Traditionally, the liability that horse owners, trainers, stable owners, and equestrian event sponsors and organizers (collectively termed “equine professionals”) faced for harm horses caused to people was governed by the common law. However, in an effort to encourage equestrian activities, 44 states have enacted the Equine Activity Liability Act (EALA), which limits the liability equine professionals face for the injury or death of an equestrian participant with certain exceptions.
EALA terms vary by state, but in most states, EALA makes equine professional not liable for the death or injury of an equestrian participant if such death or injury resulted from a risk inherent to equine activities. An inherent risk would be one that is foreseeable as likely or possible as a result of interacting with a horse or horses. Examples would include being thrown from a horse or being bitten by a horse. A non-inherent risk would be one not usually associated with equine activities. An equine professional may be liable for injury or death resulting from a non-inherent risk. An example of a non-inherent risk may include dogs chasing a horse, which causes injury to the rider.
EALA does not protect equine professionals from all liability. For example, an equine professional may be liable for a participant’s injuries if he or she displayed a willful and wanton or intentional disregard for the participant’s safety or if he or she failed to make a reasonable effort to ensure the participant’s safety. An equine professional may also be liable for injury caused by a dangerous condition that the equine professional knew about, but the participant did not, or if he or she provided defective tack or equipment that caused injury or death to the participant.
EALA encourages equestrian activities by limiting equine professionals’ liability for injury or death to equestrian participants. However, the equine professional is only protected if a participant suffers injury or death due to an inherent risk involved with interacting with horses. EALA does not shield an equine professional from liability if the injury or death was caused by a non-inherent risk or caused by the equine professional’s own negligence.