Breakaway Horse May Leave Owner Liable
(CN) - A man whose horse got loose while he was in a tavern must face claims from the Good Samaritan the horse later trampled, a New York appeals court ruled.
Burton Schwab, Diana Weaver and Jan Wilson rode three horses to a tavern in Saratoga County one day in 2008. Two of the horses, Whiskey and Sally, belonged to Schwab. The other horse, Cowboy, belonged to Wilson.
With the trio in the tavern, Whiskey and Cowboy broke free of their restraints and headed down the road. Wilson chased them on foot.
Robert Carey observed this scene from his house and followed the horse in his car before parking in front of them. Wilson asked Carey to hold Whiskey's reins while she tried to get control of Cowboy.
Whiskey nevertheless "got spooked" and "head swatted" Carey, knocking him out, according to the ruling. Whiskey then dragged Carey, who was still holding the reins, before stepping on him and running over him.
After Carey and his wife filed suit, Schwab claimed that he did not have notice of Whiskey having vicious propensities or exhibiting dangerous behavior.
Schwab, Weaver and Wilson offered deposition testimony that Whiskey was a calm horse that did not act aggressively.
Thomas Merrills, a friend of Schwab who lived near Carey, nevertheless testified that he observed one of Schwab's horses as being "flighty" and "always throwing his head in the air."
Merrills could not confirm, however, that Whiskey was the horse that acted this way. A county judge refused to dismiss the case, and the Appellate Division's Albany-based Third Department affirmed.
"The record, including defendant's own testimony, clearly establishes that Whiskey was the paint horse that defendant usually rode and that defendant had ridden Whiskey to the tavern on other occasions," Justice Leslie Stein wrote for the court. "This supported an inference that Whiskey was the horse that Merrills previously observed acting aggressively and created a credibility issue for a jury to resolve."
"Viewing, in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, Merrills' testimony regarding his observations of defendant's paint horse, together with the evidence that Whiskey was the paint horse that defendant usually rode, and giving plaintiffs the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, we find that there are genuine issues of fact that preclude summary judgment," she added.