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Can New York Horse Owners Be Liable When Their Horses Stray From Property Owned By Others?

February 25, 2022

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Saddlemire-v.-Hunsdon.pdf"><em>Saddlemire v. Hunsdon</em></a>, No. 532527, 2022 WL 398883, at *1 (N.Y. App. Div. Feb. 10, 2022), the New York Appellate Division, Third Department, recently addressed the potential liability of the owners of horses who strayed from the property on which they were kept. In that case, two horses were being boarded on a horse farm owned by the defendants. The horses ventured off the farm and collided with plaintiff, who was riding on a motorcycle. Plaintiff sued the owners of the horse farm for negligence, and the owners filed a third-party action against the horse owners. The horse owners filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the accident was not caused by their conduct. In opposing the motion, the property owners argued that the horse owners were on the farm on the date of the accident and that their performance of various chores in exchange for rent created a duty of care.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In addressing the liability issues, the court generally noted that a landowner or animal owner may be held liable under ordinary tort principles when a domestic farm animal negligently strays from the property on which the animal is kept. This includes a negligence claim against the animal’s owner if the animal wanders unattended on a road and causes an accident. However, such a claim may be rebutted where it is established that the animal’s presence on the highway was not caused by the owner’s negligence.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Applying these principles to the case, the court found that the horse owners did not contribute to plaintiff’s injuries and were not liable for negligence. The evidence established that the horse owners were present on the farm the morning of the accident and observed the horses fenced in the field but did not have an obligation to maintain or inspect the fence. The property owners also testified that they inspected the property the morning after the incident and observed that the gates were closed, and the fence was intact.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Given such evidence, the court held that the horse owners sufficiently rebutted the presumption of negligence and demonstrated their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. The court found that the horse owners had no duty to repair the fence since the property owners retained control of the premises, and that their mere presence on the farm and speculation as to what they may have done was not enough to hold them liable.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The <em>Saddlemire</em> case makes it clear that a property owner and horse owner may both be liable for accidents or damage caused by stray horses although a horse owner’s liability hinges on whether they contributed to the accident in some way.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thank you to Gabriella Scarmato for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="mailto:agibbs@wcmlaw.com">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.</p>

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