(CN) - An equestrian coach may be held liable for the accidental death of her 17-year-old student who was killed when the horse she was riding fell over and crushed her, a California appeals court ruled.
Mia Eriksson was riding on a horse in a 2006 cross-country competition when the horse tripped on a hurdle. As her parents watched, Mia was thrown from the horse and then crushed by it.
Karan and Stan Eriksson sued their daughter's teacher, Kristi Nunnink, for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Nunnink had told Karan that Mia's horse, Koryography, was fit to ride, even though it had tripped over a hay bale in a previous competition and suffered a concussion.
Karan's friend, Sue Pipal, testified that two or three months after Mia's death, "out of the blue," Nunnink stated: "Karan told me not to let Mia ride."
The trial court granted Nunnink's motion for summary judgment, but California's Riverside-based fourth district court overturned the decision.
"A coach has a duty of ordinary care not to increase the risk of injury to a student by encouraging or allowing the student to participate in the sport when he or she is physically unfit to participate or by allowing the student to use unsafe equipment or instruments," Justice Jeffrey King wrote for the court's three-judge panel.
The 50-page ruling notes that Nunnink told Karen before the event that the horse was "fine, he's great, you know, he's good."
"Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Erikssons, Nunnink knew or should have known that Kory was unfit to jump," King wrote. "And, in spite of this knowledge, she affirmatively misrepresented facts relative to the condition of Kory that led to Mia's participation in the cross-country event."
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