April 9, 2012

When the risk is all yours

Riders must take responsibility for their injuries when they get on a horse. This is the message from the Court of Appeal in London, after a compensation claim from a woman who suffered severe injuries to her face after a riding accident was rejected.

Kara Goldsmith claimed damages for injuries she suffered when she was trying out a horse which was offered free to a good home. The horse bucked and reared up, throwing Mrs Goldsmith off, before treading on her face. Mrs Goldsmith needed 20 operations to restore her face.

Mrs Goldsmith’s solicitors believed that she had a strong case, given that she had ridden the horse before with no incident, and did not realise that the horse could behave the way it did.

However, the Appeal Court took a different view and ruled that Mrs Goldsmith had voluntarily accepted the risk that the horse might buck and was not entitled to any damages.

Richard Brooks, partner in Withy King’s Racing & Bloodstock team, and one of the leading equine solicitors nationally, commented:

“The horse accident claims we deal with fall into three broad categories. Some are dependent on whether the Claimant accepted the risk of their activity and some are not.

“Firstly, there are riders who, for instance, take a lesson or a hack at a riding centre, or who perhaps borrow a friend’s horse or, as in Mrs Goldsmith’s case were ‘test-riding’ a horse before purchase. These cases often do not get off the ground because it is legitimately said that the injured person volunteered to accept general risks.

“The second category involves riders or handlers employed to do what they are doing. This includes stable lads, grooms and yard men. In these cases employers are specifically prohibited from saying that the employee volunteered to accept any risk. These claims are much more straightforward in that sense.

“And finally, there are perfectly innocent bystanders who find themselves in the way of a horse. The question of accepting the risk doesn’t factor into the equation in these cases.

“Mrs Goldsmith clearly deserves an enormous amount of sympathy as she has suffered some terrible injuries. She argued that the buck that threw her was unlike anything she anticipated. Unfortunately for her, The Court gave this pretty short shrift. It reaffirmed the principle that if the injured non-employee fully appreciated the general risk and exposed themselves to it, then they cannot claim compensation for injuries arising when that risk materialises.

“There will still be successful non-employment cases when the claimant argues that they did not appreciate the risks. I can think in particular of complete novice riders, or where the individual horse has an undisclosed and serious quirk - but it does seem that the Goldsmith case has clarified the restriction on claims in a logical way.”

Share on: