Newhouse “Bucked” Off Horse While Riding at Chase Meadow

Who Was Liable to Newhouse For Her Equestrian- Related Injuries?

Stephanie Kelly-Newhouse sued Chase Meadows Farm, LLC, Martini & Associates LLC and Rhianon LLC for damages for personal injuries she sustained  while riding her horse in an outside ring on the equestrian facility owned by Chase Meadows and leased to Rhiannon, with which she boarded her horse. Newhouse alleged that she fell off her horse, which was allegedly spooked by objects allegedly being thrown off a building owned by Chase Meadows on which Martini was allegedly performing work.  All of the defendants made motions for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

In support of its motion, Martini offered the deposition testimonies of the parties. Newhouse testified that she was boarding one of her horses at Chase Meadows for about a month prior to the accident. Rhiannon was running the equestrian program at Chase Meadows. While she was riding the horse in the ring, an unknown roofer that she could not identify, purportedly threw building debris off the roof while she was on the horse, which made a very loud sound, causing the horse to be startled and to leap sideways.

Peter Martini, the sole member of Martini, asserted that his firm was hired by Chase Meadows, as an independent contractor, to renovate an indoor riding ring and to convert the ring into a nine-stall barn and to replace the roof at Chase Meadows. When performing construction work at the farm, Martini asserted that he, along with anyone working with him, were always respectful of the equestrian activities. And attested that he was present every day while the roof replacement work was being performed, and only worked Monday through Friday. Martini did not work on the roof on Saturdays or Sundays. On the date of Newhouse’s accident, which was a Saturday, at approximately 1:00 pm, he was not present performing any work at Chase Meadows, and neither were any of his workers. They had completed their work for the week on the Friday before the accident, and at the time of the accident, they had no ladders erected and no construction vehicles at Chase Meadows. Peter Martini also noted that he and his assistants never threw panels, debris, or other materials from the roof onto the ground.

Chase Meadows and Rhiannon also claimed that they did not create the condition. Rhiannon claim it was not contractually responsible for roofing work and was also not a party to the agreement for that work. Also, on the date of the accident, Rhiannon was not on either actual or constructive notice of items being thrown from the roof. Even if something was thrown off the roof prior to the accident, there was no proof that Rhiannon was on either actual or constructive notice that anything was going to be thrown off the roof. And, pursuant to the Boarding and Facilities Agreement between Chase Meadows and Rhiannon, Chase Meadows was responsible for all maintenance and upkeep of the facility including the structures and roofs. Chase Meadows hired Martini to perform roof repair which was ongoing at the time of the accident but Rhiannon was not involved in any way with the repair of the roof.

Other relevant testimony included that Newhouse’s husband, James Newhouse, was seated in a car near the riding ring at the time of the accident, but did not recall whether he saw anyone throw anything off the roof .

Helen Murphy (then a Rhiannon employee) was in the riding ring with Newhouse when the accident occurred. Murphy testified that she witnessed that the horse bucked Newhouse after she attempted a maneuver called a lead change while cantering, and that there was no construction happening during the time of the accident:

Q. All right. And tell me what you saw in terms of her falling off. A. She was cantering and she went across the diagonal to change directions and did something called a lead change, where the horse changes its leading leg and her horse jumped in the air when she did it and then she came back around to execute the same thing again and the horse did something called bucking where they kick their back legs up and she fell off.

Q. Wait a minute. You said she was doing, what did you call it, a crossover or something? A. A lead change.

Q. And then you said she went around the ring? A. Yep.   

Q. Oh, she went around the ring 24 and then when she got back to the spot.  A. She did it again and the horse bucked and she fell off.

Q. And you said the horse bucked? A. Um-hum.

Q. And she fell off; is that correct? A. Correct .

The elements of common law negligence are: (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, and (3) a showing that the breach of that duty constituted a proximate cause of the injury. A threshold question in tort cases is whether the alleged tortfeasor owed a duty of care to the injured party. But a contractual obligation, standing alone, will generally not give rise to tort liability in favor of a third party.

From the submissions, the Court found there was no factual basis to demonstrate that Peter Martini or his workers were present on the roof of the barn near the riding ring at the time of Newhouse’s accident; or that that one of them threw a bucket of debris from the roof of the barn;  or that Peter Martini or his workers were a proximate cause of the accident.

Not a single witness, other than Newhouse, testified that an unidentified roofer dumped a bucket of debris from the roof causing a loud noise that startled her horse. All of the remaining testimony and evidence indicated that there was no construction or roofing activity ongoing at the time of the accident and that no loud noises startled the horse. Further, there was no competent evidence that any of the defendants created a condition which caused the material to be allegedly thrown from the roof; and was on either actual or constructive notice that it was going to be thrown. Accordingly, summary judgment was warranted under those circumstances, as defendants had eliminated all triable issues of fact.

The motions for summary judgment by Martini,  Rhiannon and Chase Meadows were granted and Newhouse’s complaint was dismissed.

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