Issue By: Catherine E. Golden

Kathleen S. Swigart v. Carl Bruno

Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District 8 Cal.App.5th, 529 (June 22, 2017)

The California Court of Appeals held that those who choose to engage in an inherently risky activity, such as an endurance horseback riding event, assume the risk of injury.

On March 3, 2012, plaintiff Kathleen Swigart and defendant Carl Bruno participated in a fifty-mile endurance horseback riding event with 47 other riders in Perris, California. Both Swigart and Bruno were experienced endurance riders. Video of the event showed that Swigart and Bruno were riding in the lead pack of seven riders. Swigart rode towards the front of the group and Bruno towards the rear. During the ride there were multiple times when the horses bumped into the backs of the horses in front of them. At the eight mile checkpoint, Swigart dismounted. While she was on the ground, Bruno’s horse contacted the horse in front of it, causing that horse to kick Bruno’s horse. Bruno’s horse then bolted, throwing Bruno onto Swigart, causing her injury. Swigart sued Bruno and alleged negligence and gross negligence. Bruno filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court based on the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. Swigart then appealed.

On appeal, Swigart argued that endurance horseback riding was not inherently risky and that Bruno was negligent because he followed too closely behind the horse immediately in front of him which resulted in her injury. Swigart also argued that Bruno’s actions were grossly negligent because he had continued to ride too closely despite several warnings by other riders on the trail.

Bruno argued that endurance riding is an inherently risky sport. The activity is characterized as a demanding sport by the American Endurance Riding Conference. Bruno asserted that because of the nature of the activity Swigart was barred from recovering damages and that the trial court was correct when it granted Bruno’s motion for summary judgment.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that the primary assumption of the risk doctrine is an affirmative defense to negligence claims arising from injury accidents that occur during inherently dangerous such as horseback riding. The doctrine recognizes that certain dangers are often integral to an activity and defendants generally have no duty to protect a plaintiff from such risks. The doctrine is commonly applied to sporting events. Many sport contests involve rigorous physical activities and injuries are common. The doctrine bars participants from suing each other for injuries that arise during the sport unless they are inflicted intentionally.

Upon their review of the video evidence, the Court noted that “tailgating” frequently occurred when the horses were on sloped terrain, and all of the horses did it several times. Since all of the horses continually did this, the Court found that the risk of its occurrence was inherent to the sport. Horses are by their nature unpredictable and difficult to control. This fact, combined with the inherent dangers of horseback riding, especially in an endurance contest, relieved Mr. Bruno from any liability for his horse’s conduct. Swigart assumed the risk of injury by choosing to participate in the event.

COMMENT

This case affirms the trial court’s decision that an endurance horseback riding event is inherently dangerous, justifying an assumption of the risk affirmative defense. This case follows a long line of decisions that uphold that one assumes the risk for any type of horseback riding.

For a copy of the complete decision, see: Swigart v. Bruno

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