Stables Can’t Be Sued for Injuries Sustained in Dog and Pony Encounter
Ohio’s law that generally always excuses the unruly behavior of horses trumps the law that nearly always penalizes the mischievous acts of dogs, the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled in a split decision.
In a 2-1 decision, the court on Monday upheld a Lorain County Common Pleas Court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit against Shamrock Stables brought by a woman injured when she was knocked to the ground by Barney, the miniature horse she was considering adopting.
Lethea Graham, who already owns eight horses, was looking over Barney and walking him back to the stall when she was knocked to the ground by the horse and seriously injured two fingers. Graham alleges that one of two large dogs owned by the stable owner’s daughter and allowed to roam free on the property spooked Barney causing him to swing around and knock her down. The dog’s owner, Wendy Montoney, contends the dogs were put away and locked up before Graham was walking with the horse.
In her lawsuit, Graham cited Ohio Revised Code 955.28, which except for a few exceptions, holds the owners of dogs strictly liable for the injuries they cause to others. In its defense, Shamrock Stables cited ORC 2305.321, the equine activities immunity statute that generally provides immunity from liability for almost any activity associated with a horse because of the inherent risks of unpredictable behavior.
The common pleas court cited the section of the law that includes the unpredictability of a horse’s reaction to other animals. In granting summary judgment to Shamrock Stable, the court said even if the dog spooked the horse, the stables would still be immune because of that clause in the law.
Writing for the appeals court, Judge Beth Whitmore noted the question before the court, is which statute applies? The majority selected the equine immunity law. “As set forth above, one of the inherent risks of equine activity is the ‘unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to… other animals.’ The General Assembly did not exempt dogs from the foregoing provision. Barney’s reaction to Montoney’s dog, therefore, would qualify as an inherent risk of equine activity,” Whitmore wrote.
Whitmore also pointed out there are several exceptions to the equine immunity statute that allows a horse owner to be sued including the “willful or wanton disregard for the safety” of someone participating in an activity with the horse. The failure to secure unruly dogs where horses are located might be an act that allows for a lawsuit, but Whitmore stated the Graham did not argue that point before the appeals court, rather she only argued that the law pertaining to dog owners should dictate the outcome of the suit.
Judge Jennifer Hensel concurred with Judge Whitmore.
In her dissent, Judge Donna Carr sided with Graham stating the General Assembly has not articulated that the equine immunity statute takes precedent over the canine liability law. She maintains that equine law is a general, broad statute, and the canine law is a special, narrow provision. Citing the 2011 Riffle v. Physicians and Surgeons Ambulance Serv., 9th District, she considers the provisions of the special law to prevail over those of the general law unless state lawmakers expressly say differently.
“It’s hard to fathom why the keeper of both the horse and dog should escape strict liability out of the act of the dog, merely because the dog caused injuries via the instrument of the horse,” she wrote.
Graham v. Shamrock Stables, 2014-Ohio-3977
Civil Appeal From: Lorain County
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: September 15, 2014
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