New York State Imposes Unreasonable Liability on Equine Owners/Operators
By: Karen Nowak
President, Brookfield Riding and Driving Association
June 2015 Update
All but three of our fifty states have Inherent Risk laws that include horses and horseback riding. New York is one of those five states in which horsemen, camps, stables, and other recreational equine operators can be sued for unavoidable injuries suffered by riders. Nevada passed their law this year.
Participation in a recreational sport always involves some degree of risk that you assume under the law. These are "inherent risks”. Examples of such risks in particular sports include getting hit by a baseball during a baseball game, getting tackled in a football or soccer game, getting hit by a golf ball in the fairway, or getting knocked down by another skier who wasn’t looking where he/she was going, falling off a horse, etc.
Most states require equine activity operators to notify participants of these inherent risks, and acceptance of the risks is a requirement for participation in equine activities. These statutes do not limit lawsuits in cases where the operator’s actions increase the risk of injury—for example, providing defective equipment, but they DO protect from frivolous lawsuits arising from unavoidable accidents. There is a short, 2 minute video by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of NY that explains the problem, titled Equine Activity Liability Reform:
Article 18 of NY Code - General Obligations protects skiing operations. New York’s current law imposes an undue liability burden on recreational equine operators, who face both high insurance premiums and personal financial risk. New York NEEDS to stop dragging its feet and add an Equine Inherent Risk statute to Article 18! Such a statute has been proposed every year since at least 1999! (That is as far as internet records go at the state but I remember discussions on this as far back as the early 1990’s.) Each time the bill progresses to the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees and never sees the light of day until the next year when it is again proposed, referred to the respective Judiciary Committees and “dies”.
This is totally unacceptable! According to one recent study, the New York recreational equine industry accounts for $2.07 billion in revenue and over 35,000 full-time equivalent jobs.2 That is just ONE segment of this industry! We should be trying to grow this industry in this economy but the burden of ever rising insurance costs makes it prohibitive for many. Such a statute would limit or prevent frivolous, unfounded lawsuits, resulting in lower insurance costs. How long do you think the skiing industry would last in this state if people could sue for any and every “mishap”?!
Why does skiing have protection when the equine industry does not? The state benefits by having the statute for skiing because some of the resorts are state owned! That is NOT the case with the equine industry. Many of our state elected officials are trial lawyers themselves plus they have a financial incentive in terms of campaign contributions from the powerful and wealthy NY Trial Lawyers Association. Trial lawyers make a significant portion of their income from lawsuits so they have an incentive to stop this legislation from progressing into law.
The Assembly bill # is A0146. The Senate bill # is S1823.
It is long past time for the members of the equine community to stand together and demand that this legislation be passed! If EVERY owner, rider, parent and grandparent of kids who ride in NY called and wrote to their elected officials, the pressure would be great to move this bill forward. PLEASE GET INVOLVED!!! In my experience, it is best to call, fax & email as different staffers are responsible for each (increases your chances of being "heard").
As has happened every year, the bills have been forwarded to the Judiciary Committees. We will need to put pressure on them as well.
2 New York Horse Racing and Agriculture Industry Alliance. “New York State Equine Industry Economic Impact Study.” 2012.