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Equine Law
By Lisa Hollister, Esq.
Every horse owner is aware that their horse may escape con-
fnement and cause injury to individuals and/or property. In Ohio
there are two legal theories under which a defendant can be liable
when a horse escapes and causes either personal or property
injury. These are: 1. Liability for the injury regardless of whether
the owner was negligent in how the horse escaped (Strict liability)
and 2. Liability as a result of negligence. The Ohio case of White
v. Elias No 97734 is of particular interest because it is a complex
case which involves both legal theories.
Facts of White v. Elias
The Elias family trust owns a piece of property with two homes,
a pasture and a barn. Kenneth McGuire rented one of the homes
and the barn. After renting a portion of the property McGuire
decided to take in boarders, one of whom was a horse Dakota
owned by Ellen Meyer. As a condition of boarding her horse at
the farm, Meyer signed an agreement stating neither McGuire nor
the Eliases would be liable for any injuries which might be caused
by Dakota. At one point McGuire signed an amended lease with
the Elias family which stated that if McGuire sublet stalls, McGuire
would be liable for all “permits, licenses, insurance liability respon-
December 21, 2009, Meyer visited her horse. Meyer turned her
horse out with fve other horses in a feld without hay or grass. All
of the horses escaped from the feld and ended up at the Cooper’s
home, a neighbor of the property owned by Elias. The Coopers
asked a friend, Evelyn White to help lead the horses off their prop-
erty and back to the Elias’ farm. While assisting with the horses,
White was kicked in the face by Myer’s horse Dakota, causing
substantial injuries which lead to the fling of a lawsuit. The trial
court dismissed all parties on either a voluntarily dismissal by the
plaintiff or on summary judgment. (summary judgment is a pre
- verdict decision rendered by the court in response to a party’s
claim that there is no factual dispute and as a result a decision
should be made without resorting to a full hearing in favor of that
Legal Theories Utilized by Plaintiff on Appeal
Strict Liability
Under Ohio law if the owner of the animal in question is found
strictly liable for the animal’s actions then the owner of the animal
is liable regardless of whether the animal is vicious or whether
its viciousness is known to the owner. The owner is liable under
this theory for damages to real (real estate) and personal property
(property which is not real estate) as well as injuries to the prop-
erty owner and their family. However, in the case before the Court,
the injuries which occurred were to White who was not a member
of the landowner’s family. As a result the Appeals Court found that
the Defendant was not “strictly liable” for the damages to White.
Negligence and the Defense of Assumption of the Risk
Next the Appeals Court moved on to the issue of Negligence.
In response to plaintiff’s claim of negligence (specifcally that
the fences were inadequate to contain the horses, and that the
horse’s owner should never have put the horse in such a feld) the
defendant raised the defense of Assumption of the Risk, which
can be either a partial or complete bar to recovery. For a defen-
dant to successfully raise Assumption of the Risk as a defense to
negligence, three elements are necessary: 1. The plaintiff must
have knowledge of the condition. 2. The condition must be patent-
ly dangerous to plaintiff. 3. The plaintiff must voluntarily expose
him or herself to the hazard. If the Appeals Court found that the
plaintiff had Assumed the Risk then the Court could fnd at least
partially for the defendant even if it determined that the defendant
had been negligent.
Primary Assumption of the Risk a Complete Bar to Recovery
Primary Assumption of the Risk raises Assumption of the Risk
to the level of being a complete bar to recovery and, if proven,
then the defendant does not owe any duty to the plaintiff. This is
because the plaintiff has been found to have become voluntarily
involved in an obviously dangerous activity. Under Ohio Primary
Assumption of the Risk, an individual assumes the risk of engag-
ing in certain activities which are considered risky and as a result
engaging in those activities an individual cannot recover for inju-
ries. The exception to this rule occurs when there is evidence that
the Defendant has engaged in reckless conduct which has been
found to have caused the injury. The reason for this doctrine is
that certain activities are so inherently risky that the risk of injury
cannot be avoided.
In this case the Appeals Court found that in Ohio a person fnd-
ing an animal at large in violation of the State’s Revised Code
concerning containment of animals, has the right to take and con-
fne the animal. Based on this fnding, the Court further found that
Primary Assumption of the Risk does not apply to this case. As a
result White was not completely bared from recovering and there
still remains a question of fact as to whether the defendants may
be liable for negligence. The Appeals Court determined that the
trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the de-
fendants, reversed the case and remanded it back to the lower
court to make a decision consistent with the Appeals Court’s deci-
While the legal defense of Assumption of the Risk as well as
Primary Assumption of the Risk can be exceedingly benefcial to
horse owners when claims of injuries are made, it always impor-
tant to be a responsible horse owner and to have adequate liability
Lisa Hollister is an
attorney practicing
in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Questions for Ms.
Hollister’s column
can be addressed to
Liability for Injuries Caused by Escaping Horses