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November 28, 2023

Horseback Rider Assumes Risk of "Green Broke" Horse

Under New York law, a participant in a recreational activity such as horseback riding assumes risks that are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the activity. Specifically, New York courts have generally found that in sporting events involving horses, these inherent risks include injuries arising out of the sudden and unintended actions of the horse, including those actions that result in the participant being thrown or falling. A sporting participant is not, however, deemed to have assumed the risks of conditions caused by the defendant’s negligence that are unique or greater than the participant’s skill and experience.

In Stanhope v. Burke,i the plaintiff sustained injuries when he was bucked off a horse. The motion court denied the owner’s motion for summary judgment premised upon the assumption of the risk doctrine. Instead, the court found that issues of fact existed as to whether the horse at issue posed risks that were above and beyond those known by the plaintiff, particularly because the plaintiff was allegedly unaware the horse was “green broke,” meaning the horse required additional saddle training, and had previously been “spooked” under certain circumstances.

On appeal, the Appellate Division, Third Department, reversed, holding that the primary assumption of the risk doctrine barred the plaintiff’s claims. The court found that the plaintiff had significant exposure to horses such that he could appreciate the inherent risks involved in horseback riding. Meanwhile, there was no evidence the defendant concealed that the horse at issue was “green broke” or otherwise increased or concealed the risks associated with riding the horse. Indeed, the evidence established the plaintiff was well acquainted with the horse, familiar with its ongoing training, and had previously groomed and ridden it.

The Stanhope decision illustrates the fine line between risks that are assumed and those that are concealed or increased. Practitioners litigating personal injury claims arising out of recreational activities must thoroughly assess and examine the plaintiff’s knowledge, skill, and experience both generally and specifically to the instrumentalities or conditions at issue to determine whether the primary assumption of the risk doctrine applies.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact David Fulvio, counsel, at; Matthew Larkin, Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area chair, at; or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area.

i2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 5427 (3d Dep’t. 2023).

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