As a state that serves as home to many large expanses of farmland, Georgia has many unique laws reflecting this heavily rural character. Among these interesting laws is the Georgia Injuries from Equine or Llama Activities Act (“Equine Act”), which is codified at O.C.G.A. § 4-12-1 et seq. Although this is clearly not the most commonly invoked statute, it remains in the books, and as the Georgia Court of Appeals recently learned, it is among those laws still ripe for litigation.
The case, Gadd v. Warwick, arose from an accident at a summer camp. The plaintiff in this action was 19 at the time of the accident and was one of the camp’s counselors. Among his duties as a counselor was leading children on “trail rides.” On May 30, 2011, a supervisor decided that some of the staff, including the plaintiff, should take a trail ride with the horses to get the horses acclimated to the route to be taken with the camp attendees. During this tester ride, the horse on which the plaintiff was riding jumped—rather than stepped—over a 12-inch-wide stream and then reared up on his hind legs. As a result, both the plaintiff and the horse lost their balance. The plaintiff fell from the saddle onto the ground, and the horse then landed on him. The plaintiff sustained an injury as a result.
Horses at the camp were provided by the defendant in this case pursuant to an agreement between the camp and the defendant. The defendant had leased horses to the camp every summer since 2004, and pursuant to the agreement between him and the camp, he was to provide horses that were appropriate for children between seven and 16 and to replace any horse deemed inappropriate by the camp. After the accident, the plaintiff brought suit against the defendant, alleging that the defendant’s negligence caused the accident at issue. At the close of discovery, the defendant moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, based on the immunity provided under the Equine Act. The plaintiff then filed the current appeal.
Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling, finding that the broad immunity provided under the Equine Act immunized the defendant from liability. Indeed, the Equine Act provides broad immunity for injuries and death resulting from “inherent risks of equine activities.” O.C.G.A. § 4-12-3. Since the injury at issue here clearly arose from risks inherent to equine activities, the injury needed to fall within one of the narrow exceptions to immunity provided under the Act. First, the plaintiff argued that the circumstances of his injury fell within the exception provided by O.C.G.A. § 4-12-3 (b)(1)(B), which provides that there is no immunity under the Act if one “[p]rovide[s] [an] animal and fail[s] to make reasonable . . . effort to determine the ability of the participant [to whom the animal is given] to engage safely in the equine activity and to safely manage the particular animal based on the participant’s representations of his or her ability.” The Court of Appeals noted that this exception clearly contemplates a situation in which a person provided the animal directly to a person but not, as was the case here, an animal provided to a camp that then provided the horse to the injured party. Indeed, it was agents for the camp—rather than the defendant—who would have had an opportunity to assess the plaintiff’s requisite skills. Since this case fell outside the scope contemplated by the exception, the Court of Appeals found the plaintiff’s recourse to it unavailing.
Similarly, the Court of Appeals found that the plaintiff did not fall within the exception under O.C.G.A. § 4-12-3 (b)(4), which provides that liability may be found when one “ willful[ly] or wanton[ly] disregard[s] . . the safety of the participant, and [through his] act or omission cause[s] . . . injury.” In this case, the Court of Appeals found that there was insufficient evidence in the record to create an issue of material fact as to whether the defendants showed a wanton disregard when they leased Greg to the camp. Indeed, the evidence showed that the defendant had leased Greg to the camp for the two previous summers without incident, and the camp’s equestrian program supervisor testified at deposition that it was “very likely” Greg had been used on the same trail on which the plaintiff was injured during those earlier summers. The supervisor further testified that Greg would have been ridden around the arena before he was taken on the trail and that the plaintiff was an experienced rider. In an effort to establish an issue of material fact, the plaintiff relied on the testimony of an expert witness who opined that Greg, based on his age, pedigree, training, and conditioning, was an unsuitable choice based on the requirement set forth in the contractual agreement between the camp and the defendant. However, the Court of Appeals concluded that although the expert’s testimony could create an issue of material fact with respect to the injury of a child under the agreement, it could not show a wanton disregard for a potential injury to a 19-year-old camp counselor with undisputed experience in riding horses, especially in the absence of evidence suggesting Greg had a prior history of misbehavior. See, e.g., Adams v. Hare, 244 Ga. App. 605, 608-09 (2000) (concluding that evidence of wanton disregard was insufficient because the evidence did not show that the defendant knew the horse had on a prior occasion intentionally kicked a person). Accordingly, the evidence was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to the applicability of the wanton disregard exception.
Although one wouldn’t imagine that a horse riding injury would be governed by such an odd law, Georgia law is replete with many statutes governing injuries in various factual scenarios. Accordingly, someone who has suffered an injury as a result of possible negligence should consider finding experienced counsel who can help them assess the potential legal nuances of their case. The Atlanta personal injury lawyers at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law are well versed in the minutiae of Georgia negligence law, and they are prepared to help you with a potential claim. Indeed, if you’ve been recently been injured as a result of possible negligence and are curious about your legal options, feel free to contact us and schedule a complimentary case consultation.