No Place for Negligence: Limiting Your Liability in Unique Situations
Tom was brimming with confidence as he and the groom led his hottest prospect into the winner’s circle following a win in an allowance race on the turf.
An experienced trainer, Tom was sure that everyone’s hard work would pay off, and it had. But in a matter of moments, his excitement and exuberance turned into concern. In addition to horses, grooms, and trainers, the winner’s circle was crowded with excited and exuberant spectators, many of whom appeared to have spent little or no time around horses. Tom knew that group ticket packages often included photos in the winner’s circle. He appreciated the importance of promoting the sport and creating new fans. But this seemed like too much.
Tom, the groom, and their horse were soon surrounded by excited guests. The trainer and the groom warned people not to get too close. They tried to be polite and answer questions as the visitors snapped pictures with smartphones. Unfortunately, one would-be fan didn’t realize his flash was on, and three bright bursts of light erupted just a few feet from the horse’s face. The Thoroughbred spun and kicked the man in the chest, sending him crashing to the ground. Tom and the groom managed to get the horse under control quickly to prevent additional injuries. The EMTs arrived and rushed the man to the hospital.
Tom’s big day literally ended in a flash. A few weeks later, he was served legal papers. The injured man was suing him for negligence.
The situation I have just described is hypothetical. However, the legal implications are very real. As a trainer, you are responsible for large, powerful, and often high-strung animals in a variety of situations; situations that are far more fluid and complex than a casual observer could possibly realize. If a horse gets out of control and causes injury on the backside, in the paddock, or winner’s circle, who is liable? You, as the trainer? The owner? The track? All of the above?