Injured Horseback Rider Denied Recovery Due To Assumption Of The Risk
Sports and recreational activity participants may be barred from recovering damages following injury accidents during those activities if what occurred was an inherent risk associated with that sport or activity. When people choose to engage in risky activities, California law says that they have assumed the risk of injury by participating in them. In Swigart v. Bruno, Cal.App.4, Case No. D071072, the court ruled that a woman who was injured by a horse while participating in an endurance riding event could not recover in a lawsuit alleging negligence against another rider.
Issue: Whether a participant in a sport or other recreational activity can sue another participant for negligence in the case of an injury accident?
The plaintiff, Kathleen Swigart, and the defendant, Carl Bruno, both participated in an endurance horseback riding event in Perris, California on March 3, 2012. The course was 50 miles long. Swigart dismounted at the eight-mile card checkpoint. While she was on the ground, Bruno’s horse contacted the horse in front of it, causing that horse to kick Bruno’s horse. Bruno’s horse then bolted, throwing Bruno off and striking Swigart, injuring her. Swigart filed a lawsuit against Bruno alleging negligence and gross negligence. Bruno filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court agreed, dismissing the action. Swigart then appealed to the Califonia Court of Appeals.
Rule: Assumption of the risk bars recovery for negligence in inherently risky activities in which the plaintiff chooses to participate.
In California, every person has an ordinary duty of care to act reasonably, and when his or her actions are unreasonable under the circumstances, the person may be held to be liable for damages caused by his or her negligence. Some sports and other recreational activities are considered to be inherently risky. In a case in which a plaintiff chooses to engage in a sport or activity that has inherent risks, he or she will not be able to recover damages in a lawsuit that is filed against another participant for negligence if what happened was one of the risks of participating. The primary assumption of the risk is an affirmative defense to negligence claims arising from injury accidents that happen during the sport or activity.
Swigart argued that endurance horseback riding was not inherently risky and that Bruno was negligent because he followed too closely behind the horse immediately in front of him, resulting in his horse contacting that horse and the subsequent injury accident. Swigart also argued that Bruno’s actions were grossly negligent because he had continued to ride too closely despite several warnings by other riders on the trail.
Bruno argued that endurance riding is inherently risky and is a sport. The activity is characterized as a demanding sport by the American Endurance Riding Conference. Bruno asserted that because of the nature of the activity, Swigart was barred from recovering damages and that the trial court was correct when it granted Bruno’s motion for summary judgment.
The court reviewed the video of the event in order to reach its decision. On the video, Swigart and Bruno were riding in the lead pack of seven riders with Swigart riding towards the front and Bruno towards the rear of the pack. The riders were riding single file. During the course, the court counted multiple times when the horses bumped into the backs of the horses in front of them. The tailgating frequently happened when the horses were on terrain that sloped, and all of the horses did it several times. Because all of the horses continually did this, the court found that the risk of its occurrence was inherent to the sport. The court also found that Bruno’s actions were not grossly negligent and that Swigart assumed the risk of injury by choosing to participate in the event.
The court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the action because Swigart failed to meet her burden of persuading the court that a triable issue of material fact existed in her case. Because she assumed the risk of injury when she participated in the endurance riding event, she could not recover when she was injured in an accident involving one of the normal risks associated with it.