Who Is Responsible When Pony Kicks Onlooker?

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For equestrians, New Jersey is the place to be. According to a State website, there are more horses here per square mile than anywhere else in the nation. (1) As with any sport, however, injuries can occur and when they do, who is at fault – the owner of the horse farm or the participant? That’s the question facing a Hunterdon County court this week. If, after reading the following, you need a Hunterdon County lawyer to assist you with a similar situation, contact the personal injury attorneys at Ragland Law Firm, located in Lebanon, N.J.

On March 16, a Hunterdon County judge is scheduled to decide whether or not a lawsuit against Tir Na Nog, LLC and its owner, Margaret Donovan, should be dismissed. The suit stems from a 2002 incident in which Lindsey Ward was kicked in the face and head by a pony as it was being lead off a trailer at the farm. Ms. Ward and her parents filed suit in June 2011 against the farm, its owner and Jodi Cox, who brought the pony to the farm on the day of the incident. (2)

This case brings to light two issues: first is the protection afforded to owners of horse farms by the New Jersey Equine Activities Liability Act. This statute recognizes there are inherent risks involved with dealing with horses and that eliminating such risk is impractical if not impossible. As a result, the act states that spectators and participants assume the risks when engaging in equine activities and that the assumption of those risks precludes them from suing if injuries are incurred. However, there are exceptions where the farm owners are not automatically protected, such as situations where they failed to take necessary steps to assure the participant’s safety. (3)

Ms. Donovan has asked the court to dismiss the case against her and the farm citing their immunity under the State’s Equine Activities Liability Act. The Wards, however, contend that Lindsey was not actually participating in an equine activity at the time of the accident and, as such, could not have assumed the inherent risks involved. Additionally, they claim the defendants did not take sufficient measures to prevent the accident, which would negate their protection anyway. (2)

The second issue this case addresses is the statute of limitations. In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is two years. However in cases involving minors, the clock doesn’t start running until the minor turns 18. Although the incident occurred in 2002, the suit was not filed until 2011 after Ms. Ward, who is now 19 years old, turned 18. (2)

The motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the farm owner is protected under the Equine Activities Liability Act was first heard in Superior Court last month. Because the discovery period had not yet expired, the judge rejected the motion. (2)

If you or someone you know needs assistance with a similar personal injury case, contact the personal injury attorneys at Ragland Law Firm located in Lebanon, N.J., which is in close proximity to Clinton and Flemington.

(1) http://www.nj.gov/nj/about/
(2) http://www.nj.com/hunterdon-county-democrat/index.ssf/2012/03/is_horse_farm_liable_for_pony.html
(3) http://www.animallaw.info/statutes/stusnjst5_15_1.htm

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