Fife farm owner found not liable for injury to stable hand after riding accident  

A judge in the Outer House of the Court of Session has found that the owner of a farm in Fife was not liable for injuries inflicted on a teenage stable hand by a racehorse that was stabled there.

Milly Morrison sought reparations of £50,000 in solatium from James Oakden for a head injury and spinal fractures that she sustained in July 2015. She also sought past wage loss of around £60,000, as well as interest and future wage loss.

The case was heard by Lady Carmichael. The pursuer was represented by Ennis, advocate, and the defender by Shand QC.

Landed on top of her

The pursuer, at the time aged 17, was employed by the defender in July 2015 as a stable hand at Dunbog Farm in Fife. On 21 July, she was asked to exercise a horse called Macamore, a gelding racehorse about 17 hands high who had competed at a high level with his previous owner and was recovering from an injury at the defender’s farm.

The horse had been exercised earlier that morning by his owner, a Ms Lindsay, and the pursuer was specifically asked by the defender not to take him along the same track he had previously been on. The farm had three tracks, and the remaining two required the pursuer either to cross a road or to walk near a steep drop to an adjacent field.

The pursuer, herself a competent horse rider, chose to ride the horse at a walk around the latter track, however as she returned, he began to jog unexpectedly. She failed to make a controlled dismount from the horse, and she slid off of him and down the steep ditch, followed by the horse, which landed on top of her.

It was the pursuer’s position that it was known in the industry that horses were more challenging in their behaviour after a period of “box rest”, i.e., near-complete confinement to a stable, which Macamore had been in since June of that year, and the defender had been aware that the horse was likely to misbehave on a second outing.

The defender pled that there had been no known issues with Macamore’s temperament during his rehabilitation, and that he was a well-trained and obedient horse. It was therefore not reasonably foreseeable to an average competent horseman that an accident would occur in the circumstances.

Reasonable care

In her decision, Lady Carmichael said of the cause of the accident: “There is a clear and sufficient causal connection between Macamore’s behaviour, the pursuer’s attempting to dismount and as a result falling, and between Macamore’s behaviour and his landing on her after she had fallen. Her injuries were caused by the accident.”

Turning to the evidence on general risk, she noted: “I am not satisfied that there is a risk generally recognised in the industry that a horse who has had a period of restricted exercised will behave more badly the second time he is ridden than the first time he is ridden.”

On the effect of “box rest”, she said: “[The defender] ought to have been aware that there was a recognised risk that horses would misbehave following periods of reduced exercise. He knew that Macamore had misbehaved that morning, with his own rider, who was a more experienced rider than the pursuer. As I have already said, I do not accept that he knew or ought to have known that Macamore would behave more badly on a second outing than on a first, or that he was more likely to misbehave on a second outing than on a first.”

Considering the defender’s conduct in asking the pursuer to exercise the hose, Lady Carmichael said: “Essentially the defender required to consider with reasonable care whether the pursuer was equipped by virtue of her competence as a rider to deal with Macamore’s behaviour while riding him unaccompanied that day. If she was not, he should have considered whether she should ride Macamore at all; whether she should ride him outside the confines of the yard; and whether if she were to ride him outside the yard, risk would be sufficiently mitigated by the presence of another horse and rider.”

She concluded: “I consider that the judgment that the defender made was a reasonable one. I accept [that] a rider of the pursuer’s experience could be expected to cope with a horse who was excitable, and who had reared, unless that had been a high rear. There is no evidence that the defender should reasonably have anticipated misbehaviour by Macamore of a nature that would have made it unsafe for the pursuer to ride him.”

For these reasons, Lady Carmichael assoilzied the defender.

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