Horse Slaughter Legislation Update

As of this week, a New Jersey bill prohibiting the slaughter of horses for human consumption has passed both houses of the New Jersey Legislature. If Governor Chris Christie signs the bill, New Jersey will become the fifth state to proscribe horse processing within its borders. California, Texas, Oklahoma, and Illinois have enacted legislation prohibiting horse processing in those states.

As discussed this prior post, there is no longer any federal law prohibiting the funding of USDA inspections for horse slaughter plants. This, in essence, created the opportunity for horse slaughter plants to re-open in states that have not passed laws prohibiting the practice.  However, that could change next year. 

An amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 Agricultural Appropriations Bill passed the full Appropriations Committee this week. The amendment—introduced this month by Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA)—seeks to expressly eliminate federal funding for USDA inspections of horse slaughter facilities. The bill must now be approved by the full House and then go to the Senate.

Moran had introduced similar language during the debate over the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Bill. Though the version of the bill including the language was adopted in the House, it was later removed shortly before the 2012 bill became law.

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Fort Worth Court of Appeals Reverses Summary Judgment Based on Chapter 87 Immunity Act

Yesterday, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals handed down an opinion in a case styled Hilz v. Riedel, reversing the trail court’s summary judgment granted in favor of a defendant based on Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”).

Case Background: Thirteen-year-old Ciarra Hilz was injured at her friend Steven’s house while riding a “five-year-old male quarter horse” by the name of “Logan.” Logan belonged to Steven’s dad, Richard Riedel. 

Ciarra’s father, Greg, claimed that he told Richard not to allow Ciarra to ride outside of the round-pen located on Richard’s property. Richard claimed that Greg never said anything about where he wanted Ciarra to ride horses.

Ciarra started her ride in the round pen, but then rode out into the pasture afterwards. While Ciarra was riding in the pasture, Logan “bolted” and ran Ciarra into a tree, causing a tree limb to impale Ciarra’s side. Ciarra was hospitalized for a week and had multiple surgeries.

Greg sued Richard Hilz on his own behalf and on behalf of Ciarra. Richard filed a motion for summary judgment under Section 87.003 of the Act, which, prior to its amendment in 2011 stated,

 

[e]xcept as provided by Section 87.004, any person…is not liable for…damages arising from the personal injury or death of a participant in an equine activity…if the…injury results from the dangers or conditions that are an inherent risk of an equine activity.

Richard’s motion further addressed the reasons why he was not liable under the exceptions to the Act provided in Section 87.004(2) [failure to make a reasonable and prudent effort to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity] and 87.004(3) [dangerous latent condition of the land].

However, Greg had amended his petition to add an allegation that the exception provided in Section 87.004(4) [commission of an act or omission with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant] before filing his summary judgment response.

The Appeal: The Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of Richard, holding that:

1) a fact issue precluding summary judgment existed as to the exception found in Section 87.004(2) because Greg claimed that he told Richard not to let Ciarra ride outside the round pen; and

2) Because Richard did not amend his motion for summary judgment to include the exception found in Section 87.004(4), summary judgment was improper on that claim.

Take Aways: Defendants relying upon the Act in a motion for summary judgment should 1) include arguments as to why each and every pleaded exception to the Act does not apply; and 2) have parents and minors sign carefully-drafted liability waivers prior to allowing guests to ride; and 3) have parents put all specific instructions regarding their child’s participation in equine activities in writing.

Case Information: Hilz v. Riedel, No. 02-11-00288-CV, 2012 WL 2135648 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Jun. 14, 2012, no pet h.)

Photo:  In celebration of Father's Day this Sunday, today's photo is of my dad, Chuck McCormack, and me riding at Bardwell Lake.  Have a great Father's Day everyone!

Update on Young v. McKim

Last week, we discussed Young v. McKim, a case dealing with whether or not Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code applies to workers.  Here's a link to the post.

Young has filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the Fourteeth Court of Appeals in Houston.  A link to the motion can be found here

It is my understanding that Young intends to appeal her case to the Supreme Court of Texas.

I will post updates as they become available.  

 

 

Another Appellate Court Holds Chapter 87 Immunity Act Applies to Suits Brought by Independent Contractors

As we discussed in this prior post, the Supreme Court of Texas has not yet addressed the issue of whether Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”) shields defendants from liability in suits where employees or independent contractors are injured while engaging in an equine activities. Up until last week, we only had two opinions—both from intermediate appellate courts—addressing this issue. 

In the first case—Johnson v. Smith (Corpus Christi 2002)—the court held that independent contractors were participants under the Act, and therefore the Act shielded defendants in suits brought by independent contractors from liability. In the second case—Dodge v. Durdin (Houston [1st] 2005)—the court held that employees are not participants under the Act, and therefore defendants in suits brought by employees are not immune from liability.

As of last Thursday, we now have a third appellate case that sheds light on this issue. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston recently held that the Act immunizes defendants from liability for claims brought by independent contractors.

The case, styled Young v. McKim, represents the first equine employee negligence suit addressed by a Texas court of appeals since Loftin v. Lee was handed down by the Texas Supreme Court in April of 2011. 

Case Background: Brenda Young had posted a flyer at Ravensway Stables advertising her ability to assist owners in the care of their horses. Tisa McKim and her daughter, Jackie, hired Young to care for their horses—Jasper and Butch—at Ravensway. 

About two months after Young started caring for Jasper (a rescue horse), Jasper kicked Young and injured her. The injury occurred while Young was talking to another boarder at Ravensway while Jasper grazed beside her.

Young sued the McKims for negligence, and the McKims moved for summary judgment under the version of the Act in existence in 2010 (i.e. before the Act was amended in 2011). The trial court granted the McKims’ motion for summary judgment. 

The Appeal: The Fourteenth Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the McKims. On appeal, Young alleged that the Act did not shield the McKims from liability.  Among the reasons Young gave were 1) only “tourists and other consumers of equine activities” qualify as participants under the Act; and 2) Young was an employee of the McKims, not an independent contractor.  Young relied heavily on the First Court of Appeals’ opinion in Dodge on appeal.

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals determined that Young was an independent contractor, not an employee.  The court did not reach the issue of whether the Act would have applied had Young been an employee. The Fourteenth Court disagreed with the discussion in Dodge suggesting that the Act only applied to “tourists and other consumers of equine activities.”

Citing Loftin, the Fourteenth Court held,

“The Equine Act is a comprehensive limitation of liability for equine activities of all kinds…The Equine Act applies to all ‘participants’”. [Emphasis supplied].

It remains to be seen whether Young will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas. Given the Supreme Court’s expansive view of the Act set forth in Loftin, the Supreme Court might disagree with Dodge’s holding that the Act does not apply to employees.

Case Information:  Young v. McKim, No. 14-11-00376-CV, 2012 WL 1951099 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th] May 31, 2012, no pet h.).

Related Posts:

Are Employers Immune from Liability for Employees’ Horse-Related Injuries in Texas?

Victory for Horse Industry in Texas Supreme Court

Does Your Farm Need to Purchase Worker’s Compensation Insurance?

Time to Get New Warning Signs: Equine Activity Act Amended in 2011