Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, October 17, 2016


Page 1


Court of Appeal Holds:

No Liability for Injury Caused by Escaping Horse

Opinion Says Recreational Immunity Applies to Landowners Who Permitted ‘Wagon Train’ Event




The owners of a meadow were not liable for injuries sustained by a patron of a nearby business who was trampled by a horse that ran from their property, the Third District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The justices Thursday affirmed a Sacramento Superior Court judge’s ruling that private recreational immunity under Civil Code §846 barred Yan Wang’s claim against the meadow landowners in connection with the 2009 incident at the Strawberry Lodge.

The incident occurred during the Wagon Train, an annual event that has been held for more than 60 years. The Highway 50 Association sponsors the event, featuring old-time stage coaches, accompanied by horses with riders, traveling for a period of days from one location in Northern California to the next.

The association arranges accommodation for participants and their horses at various properties along the way.

One of those properties was the Strawberry Lodge in Sacramento County. Participants had the option of staying at the lodge or camping in the nearby meadow and leaving their horses in the meadow. 

On June 8, 2009, the Wagon Train made its stop for the night at the meadow and lodge.  That evening, Wang and her husband happened to stop at the lodge to dine at its restaurant. 

As Wang got out of the car, she was knocked over by a runaway horse that had participated in the Wagon Train that day, had been “tied down” in the meadow by his rider, and had escaped and run free onto the lodge parking lot.

Three Defendants Named

Wang and her husband sued the meadow owners, the rider of the horse, and the Highway 50 Association. Among the complaint’s allegations were that the rider negligently selected a horse of unsuitable temperament for the event, negligently tied down and secured his horse to a tree limb on the meadow property, and then left to retrieve his vehicle elsewhere. 

The complaint also alleged that the meadow owners were negligent for failing to exercise ordinary care in managing their property, as required by Civil Code §1714.

The plaintiff contended that the meadow owners failed to assure that the horses would be safely contained, that there would be adequate staff to enforce safety rules, and that rules and regulations for safe containment were distributed. Wang further alleged that the owners had a duty to repair existing fencing so as to enclose their property, and to warn persons not involved in the event that they faced danger.

The meadow owners moved for summary judgment under §846. They said they had no involvement with the Wagon Train, other than granting permission for overnight camping in the meadow, for which they received no consideration beyond being named as additional insureds on the Highway 50 Association’s liability policy.

The plaintiffs responded that §846 did not provide immunity because they were not making recreational use of the property, and that a triable issue existed as to whether “parking” horses was a recreational use.

Superior Court Judge David I. Brown granted summary judgment, reasoning that the statute applies to off-premises injury caused by on-premises recreational use, and that there was no evidence of any negligence on the part of the meadow owners independent of the alleged duty to which the immunity attached.

Opinion by Hull

Justice Harry Hull, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed.

Section 846, the jurist explained, is a statutory exception to §1714, and nothing in the immunity statute limits its application to cases involving injuries to recreational users.

The relevant portion of the statute, Hull explained, broadly relives landowners of liability for “any injury to person” caused by “any act” of the recreational users. That immunity is separate, the justice said, from a provision that a landowner “owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others…or to give any warning…to persons entering for a recreational purpose.”

If the Legislature had intended to narrow the “injury to person” immunity to protect the rights of non-recreational users to recover, it would have done so explicitly, Hull reasoned.

Attorneys on appeal were Bryan Lamb and Richard Frischer of Lamb and Frischer and Paul D. Fogel of Reed Smith for the plaintiffs, and Jeremy B. Rosen and Julie L. Woods of Horvitz & Levy and Gigi M. Knudtson and Brian D. McFarlin of Knudtson & Nutter for the defendants.

The case is Wang v. Nibbelink, 16 S.O.S. 5111.


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