[author: David Kent]
A recent opinion from an intermediate Texas appellate court gives a broad reading to the Texas Equine Activity Limitation of Liability Act. Like almost all other states, Texas has a statutory limitation of liability for horse professionals, participants, operators and sponsors of equine activities such as livestock shows, riding clubs, race tracks and horse stables. Found in Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, the statute provides immunity from claims for property damage, personal injury or death resulting from “dangers or conditions that are an inherent risk” of an equine activity, provided that certain conditions are met. Despite the law’s far-reaching language, there has been some question whether it applies to claims brought by an operator’s employees and independent contractors or whether it is limited to claims brought by consumers.
This question has not yet been before the Supreme Court of Texas, and intermediate appellate decisions have gone both ways. In Johnson v. Smith, 88 S.W.3d 729 (Tex. App. – Corpus Christi 2002, no pet.), one intermediate Texas appellate court held the statute’s immunity provisions shielded operators from claims brought by independent contractors. In the decision of Dodge v. Durdin, 187 S.W.3d 523 (Tex. App. – Houston [1st] 2005, no pet.), on the other hand, another intermediate appellate court held the statute did not bar claims brought by employees, reasoning that the law was only intended to protect operators from claims of “tourists and other consumers of equine activities.”
Now, a third intermediate appellate court has “broken the tie” by holding that claims of independent contractors are subject to the statute. Young v. McKim, 2012 Tex. App. LEXIS 4317 (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] May 31, 2012). In the McKim case, the court noted that the statute provides a “comprehensive limitation of liability for equine activities of all kinds,” and that it takes “an expansive view” of what constitutes an “inherent risk” of equine activities. Finding there was “nothing in the language of the statute” limiting it to consumer-oriented equine activities, the court affirmed a summary judgment in favor of a horse owner who had been sued for personal injuries sustained by a person who had been hired to feed, walk and care for the horse while stabled at an independent horse stable. The appellate court acknowledged. Durdin’s holding that the statute did not bar claims brought by employees, but held the evidence conclusively established in this case that the plaintiff Young was an independent contractor.