• October 11, 2012

People often deride the excesses of legal liability in the United States, pointing, for example, to warnings and disclaimers that seem obvious or ridiculous and lawsuits claiming damages for injuries from knowingly participating in dangerous activities (“Sky-diving is risky? you don’t say!”)

On the other hand, most people agree that purveyors of dangerous activities should not be able to walk away from liability in all circumstances because they gave a general warning that the product poses a risk of injury.  (If you’re run over and injured BY A SKI INSTRUCTOR, shouldn’t you have a claim against the ski area?)

In the case of 12 year-old Mia Messer’s fall from a testy horse at Grace Farms Minnesota, Minnesota courts have had to decide on which side of the line the responsibility for her injuries might fall.

Hennepin County Judge Tanya M. Bransford granted summary judgment for Grace Farms,     applying law of “primary assumption of risk” and the requirement of a showing of “greater-than-ordinary negligence.”

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, clearly influenced by the allegations in the complaint that 12 year-old Mia Messer appears to have repeatedly and emphatically sought to avoid Capri, a particularly feisty horse, and that Messer’s parents thought she was learning to ride a horse in an enclosed space, not on a trail where Messer was riding when she was injured.

Messer alleges that Grace Farms Minnesota ignored or dismissed her entreaties that she should not be riding Capri on a trail.  The nasty beast took off at a gallop on the trail with Messer at its mercy, who fell from galloping Capri and was injured.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of Grace Farms Minnesota.  The case is remanded back to the Hennepin County District Court.  It remains to be seen whether Messer will be able to prove the contested facts and whether a jury would be as sympathetic to her and her parents as the Court of Appeals arguably was.

But it does seem appropriate that a disclaimer about the dangers of horse-back riding should not absolve a riding school if it ignores the repeatedly expressed concerns of a child rider about a horse known to “spook easily” and, consequently, the child is injured when the horse runs off.

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