In a recent Ontario case, a stable owner sued a horse owner claiming that her horse had caused his facial injuries although he had no memory of the incident.

Husband And Wife Hired to Take Care of Horse 

In 2008, a husband and wife purchased a commercial horse stable company that boarded and took care of other people’s horses. 

In 2009, a horse owner entered into a written contract with the company to board her horse. The agreement required that they “turn out” her horse to the paddock in the morning and “turn in” the horse back to the barn in the afternoon by walking beside or leading it. In addition, they were hired to feed and water the horse, clean the stalls and provide other care and maintenance on a daily basis.

Husband Claims To Be Injured By Horse

On May 31, 2010, the husband claimed that he suffered serious injuries to his face when he was leading the horse back to the barn.

There were no witnesses to the incident and the horse owner was not present on that day. 

The husband stated that he had had no recollection of what happened other than he was walking the horseback towards the barn from the paddock. However, he alleged that the horse had reared up high on its hind legs suddenly and unexpectedly and with its front legs struck him on the right side of his face. He further alleged that this occurred due to the horse owner’s fault based on the principles of scienter and/or negligence, including her failure to warn the husband of the horse’s dangerous behaviour and her negligent training of the horse.

In response, the horse owner submitted that nobody knew what had happened to the husband on the day of the injuries. She argued that his claim was based only on speculation, conjecture, and theory without any evidence to support his allegations.

Husband Cites Horse’s Previous Behaviour

As part of his evidence, the husband submitted evidence of the horse’s prior behaviour and asked the court to infer that the horse had injured him based on that behaviour.

Specifically, he cited three previous incidents in which the horse had reared up on her hind legs while he and his wife were dealing with the horse at the stable.

The husband, therefore, asked the court to draw reasonable inferences and conclusions from the horse’s prior behaviour that his injuries were indeed caused by the horse suddenly and unexpectedly rearing upon its hind legs completely vertical and then flailing its front legs striking his face.

Court Rejects Husband’s Submissions on Horse’s Behaviour

At the outset, the court took issue with the husband’s submissions stating:

“The significant problem with that position is that all the evidence from every witness at the trial including the [husband], his daughter and his former wife confirmed that prior to the incident, the defendant’s three and a half-year-old horse was very friendly, mellow, very calm, laid back, well mannered, a steady temperament, easy to handle, very sweet, a ‘lapdog’ or ‘puppy dog’ version of a horse of the Warmblood breed known for this type of behaviour – all adjectives used to describe [the horse] by the various witnesses throughout this trial.”

Additionally, the court observed that the husband and his family had led the horse approximately 480 times prior to the occurrence of his injuries without any suggestion of inappropriate, mischievous or dangerous behaviour of the horse.

As such, the court held that the husband had not established on a balance of probabilities that his injuries on May 31, 2010, had been caused by the horse unexpectantly rearing up on its hind legs vertically and striking his face with its front legs. In fact, the court stated: “[t]hat conclusion is no more than speculation.”

Additionally, the court noted that the evidence presented was equally consistent with a theory of the husband falling or tripping while leading the horse, or of the horse accidentally knocking the husband over with normal movement.

Court Reviews Strict Liability Argument Under Scienter Doctrine

The court then turned to the husband’s allegation that the horse owner was liable for her horse’s actions under the scienter common law doctrine.

The court explained that under the doctrine, the keeper of a dangerous or mischievous animal will be held strictly liable for the injuries caused by that animal. Thus, where a domesticated animal, such as a horse, has a dangerous or mischievous propensity that is known to the keeper, the keeper is strictly liable for any injury that is caused by the dangerous or mischievous propensity without the need for proof of negligence. 

The court further explained that, for such an animal, a person injured must establish that:

  1. The defendant was the owner of the animal;
  2. The animal had manifested a propensity to cause the type of harm occasioned; and
  3. The owner knew of that propensity.

Finally, the court observed:

“The underlying rationale for scienter is that the owner of an animal who knows it to be dangerous or mischievous to humans or other animals or in any other way does so at their peril. The owner has created a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation involving risk to others.”

Court Rules That Horse Owner Not Liable for Husband’s Injuries

In ruling on the husband’s scienter argument, the court first noted that it had already ruled that the husband had not established that the horse had caused his injuries by rearing up and striking him in the face. In addition, the court stated that, even if the horse had done so, it was also equally possible that it did so because it had been startled.

As such, the court concluded:

“In this case, the [husband] was a professional horseman, expert handler and horse trainer in the business of boarding the […] horse. He was obligated to provide for its daily care, feeding and handling including twice-daily walking it. He was being paid by the [horse owner] to handle and bring her horse from the outdoor paddocks into the barn. As the [husband] considered himself to have more expertise with the horse than the [horse owner], he should have been able to anticipate if anything would have spooked the […] horse. It was part of his job when handling horses to understand the individual horses’ personality, their traits and how they might spook in various situations. 

It was the [husband]’s responsibility to keep the horse under control on the day of the incident, not the [horse owner] who was not even there.

The court, therefore, held that the husband’s action against the horse owner for liability based on scienter principles failed.

Finally, the court rejected the husband’s claim of negligence against the horse owner.

In the result, the husband’s action was therefore dismissed.

Contact Campbell Litigation for Experienced Advice on Personal Injury Matters

Permanent, serious physical, psychological or mental injuries can require years of rehabilitation and care. The loss of income and financial support following an injury or fatality can be devastating. Insurance companies have lawyers, adjusters and claims representatives who can work against you to deny your claims. Our clients recognize that effective legal representation levels the playing field.

Our personal injury team has extensive experience helping innocent victims get fair compensation and benefits. When negotiation will not bring a fair result, Richard Campbell is an experienced litigator who is prepared to go to trial to set things right.

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