As “The Legal Equestrian,” it occurred to me that I don’t write very many “legal” themed articles. In an attempt to change that, I am going to do a 50-state survey where I break down each state’s equine liability statute (if they have one; surprisingly, there are some states that do not have liability statutes, still; I’m looking at you, California).
Since I am from New Jersey, it made the most sense, to me, to start with my home state.
NJSA 5:13-5 states:
“A participant and spectator are deemed to assume the inherent risks of equine animal activities created by equine animals, weather conditions, conditions of trails, riding rings, training tracks, equestrians, and all other inherent conditions. Each participant is assumed to know the range of his ability and it shall be the duty of each participant to conduct himself within the limits of such ability to maintain control of his equine animal and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of himself or others, loss or damage to person or property, or death which results from participation in an equine animal activity.”
So basically, those waivers you have to sign before riding at a New Jersey stable are making sure you understand the liability statute and that you are subject to it.
What’s it saying? Basically, that you (or your legal guardian) understand the inherent danger of riding a horse and that the stable operator, is not liable (except in some very rare cases outlined below) for any injuries that may occur as a result of you riding a horse on their property, including injuries that may result in a fatality.
So when is a stable owner/operator liable?
The magic word here is “negligence.” This basically means that the individual breached his or her duty of care to you. Something negligent would be putting a beginner rider on a barely broke 3 year old horse or purposely using broken tack. If this happens, and you get hurt, the stable owner/operator cannot hide behind the liability statute for protection. They are on the hook for their negligent behavior and can be sued.
Some examples of negligent behavior include:
- Using noticeably, obviously broken tack;
- Putting a rider on a horse that is way above their skill level;
- Putting a rider on a horse that has very dangerous vices that are exhibited quite often such as rearing or bolting;
- Allowing a vicious dog that likes to chase horses to run free on the property while horses are being handled or ridden or just in general
The above list is non-exhaustive.
Another caveat to the equine liability statute in NJ is if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and decide to ride. The stable operator or owner is not responsible for your – quite frankly stupid – decision to ride or handle a horse while drunk or high.
Note: This post is not meant to serve as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. If you have been in a riding accident in New Jersey and believe that stable owner or operator is at fault, please seek the advice of an experienced personal injury or equine law attorney.