Article By Roger M. Morgenthal
Horses are wonderful animals, fun to ride and beautiful to see. However, they are also large animals that can be extremely dangerous. They can throw their riders, kick, stomp, bite and crush—sometimes intentionally, other times by accident. Most experienced riders have had significant accidents and injuries, accepting this as part of the activity.
In 2006, after many years of debate, Pennsylvania enacted the Equine Activity Act (4 P.S. § 601 et seq.) that offers some protection against lawsuits arising from horse-related accidents. Everyone who owns or rides a horse, and everyone who is involved with anything involving horses should be familiar with this law.
It applies “to an individual, group, club or business entity that sponsors, organizes, conducts or provides the facilities for equine activities.” The “equine activities” that are defined in the act are too extensive to be listed here, but they include almost anything that could be done on, around or with a horse.
The immunity granted by the act is far from absolute, and it is effective only where there is “assumption of the risk of injury” and applies only to injuries or death to an adult participant. It does not apply to injuries or death where the victim is a minor under the age of 18 years old.
When does someone assume the risk that the act refers to? It requires that signs be conspicuously posted on the property where the activity is occurring or at least originates, so that it would presumably include a trail ride that extends onto other premises. The sign must be at least three feet by two feet, in two or more locations, stating the following: “You assume the risk of equine activities pursuant to Pennsylvania law.” Signs that meet this requirement are commercially available for a reasonable cost. The conspicuous posting and wording of the signs are the important points; it does not require proof that the injured party saw, read or understood them.
The Equine Activities Act will not stop lawsuits over horse-related injuries, but it helps to protect against some claims. We recommend that other measures such as clearly-posted stable rules stressing safety and waivers of liability be obtained wherever possible as additional protection. Smigel, Anderson & Sacks, LLP, can assist you with equine matters including farm and stall leases, horse leasing agreements, liability waivers, bills of sale and breeding agreements. Call Roger M. Morgenthal at our office if you would like to discuss this further.