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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Stable Must Face Claims for Bitten-Off Thumb

(CN) - A woman whose thumb was bitten off by a horse should have a chance to seek damages, a Louisiana appeals court ruled.

Danielle Larson visited New Orleans in 2013 and went to Equest Farm to talk about feeding some of its horses, court records show.

Larson returned a few days later with carrots for the horses, but the office was closed.

She met two horse owners and told them she had permission to feed the horses. One reportedly told Larson that a pony had bitten a child a few weeks earlier.

After feeding two horses without incident, Larson approached a pony named Wesley, who knocked the carrot out of Larson's hand.

When Larson bent down to pick up the carrot, Wesley lowered his head to bite the carrot and instead bit off Larson's thumb, according to court records.

During the subsequent trial, Larson testified that she will either need to be fitted for a prosthetic thumb or have her big toe transplanted to replace her thumb.

Both horse owners testified that they saw visitors feeding horses several times a week. They did not see signs prohibiting this activity, and neither did Larson.

Equest asked the court for summary judgment, arguing that it was protected by the Equine Immunity Statute because Larson was a "participant" engaged in "equine activity."

Larson argued that immunity did not apply because she was only a "spectator" under the statute. The trial court disagreed and granted Equest's motion for summary judgment.

"I believe that ... when you went to feed that horse, it was equine activity," the trial judge reportedly stated. "You're not a spectator ... somebody could say that it's inspecting. I don't know. Evaluating. I don't know."

Larson appealed, and the Fourth Circuit Louisiana Court of Appeals reversed the decision on March 23 and remanded the case.

"If reasonable persons applying the proper legal standard could differ as to whether Ms. Larson was a participant, status becomes a question for the jury," Judge Terri Love wrote.

The judge also disagreed with the trial judge's assertion that Larson was engaged in "equine activity" which, according to the statute, includes "riding, training, racing, driving" and other activities.

"The definition does not include a visitor to a stable who feeds treats to a horse," Love wrote. "A review of the statute demonstrates, in fact, that there is no mention of feeding at all."

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