In the 33 years since the first state equine activity liability act was signed into law, courts nationwide have grappled with the meaning of these laws–especially the laws’ exceptions. Exceptions in the laws are important as they could potentially allow lawsuits to proceed. Although all of the equine activity liability acts (referred to as “EALAs”) differ, many share common characteristics. Several EALAs include an exception for a “dangerous latent condition of the land.” This article explores how the exception has been faring in the courts.
The “Dangerous Latent Condition of the Land” Exception
Michigan’s EALA, for example, states that despite provisions in the law that can prevent lawsuits, an equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or another person might still be liable for an equine-related injury if the person or business:
Owns, leases, rents, has authorized use of, or otherwise is in lawful possession and control of land or facilities on which the participant sustained injury because of a dangerous latent condition of the land or facilities that is known to the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or other person and for which warning signs are not conspicuously posted.
The term “latent” means that the condition’s presence is not apparent or visible.
When people have been hurt while riding, handling or near horses or when they are hurt at equine facilities, what conditions do they claim to be “dangerous latent conditions”?
Court Finding a “Dangerous Latent Condition”
In a Kentucky case, the injured plaintiff was an equine veterinarian who was sedating a horse in a stall at the defendant’s farm when the horse reared and collapsed onto a stall door. That stall door then fell over on the vet, causing injuries. The vet’s lawsuit argued the stable should be liable under the “dangerous latent condition of the land” exception in Kentucky’s EALA. A Kentucky appeals court ruled that the case could proceed against the stable under that exception.
Courts NOT Finding a “Dangerous Latent Condition”