Just say "Whoa!" to common sense

Over the weekend I visited a stable where some friends keep a horse, and I happened to see the following sign posted on the wall:


The sign references Michigan's Equine Activity Liability Act (text here, PDF) -- a 1994 law I'd never heard of before, which shouldn't have had to be enacted were we living in a sane society. Basically, the law is a codification of what used to be common sense. If you get on or get close to a horse in the course of an "equine activity," the horse might get excited, and you might fall off and get hurt, the horse might kick or bite, you might get tangled in the bridle or stirrups -- any host of things.

By getting on a horse, you assume the risk that you might fall off!


The law puts the brakes on lawsuits against owners of horses and stables against lawsuits by people who assumed the risk. 

Frankly, it shocks me that there are people who would get on a horse and then sue if they fall off. They are more dangerous than any horse, horse owner, or stable. In fact, they are sinister threat to our freedom. 

Whether it is their fault or the fault of a legal system that allows them to run amok, or whether it is the fault of the lawyers who make money off them, I don't know. I am glad the legislature stepped in and passed this law, but I worry that it's a sign of the times.

The increasing trend seems to be that there is no such thing as assumption of the risk for participation in dangerous activities, unless the legislature steps in and says there is. It seems painfully obvious that things like auto-racing, mountain-climbing, skiiing, SCUBA diving, parachuting, and rough contact sports like hockey or football are all activities in which the risk of injury is a given, and assumption of the risk ought to be a matter of common sense. Yet apparently the legislature has to say so.

If I got on a horse and fell off, it would not occur to me to sue and I would not want to. But in all of these things, the catch is money. Suppose I were paralyzed like Christopher Reeves. Who pays for a lifetime of huge medical expenses? That's where lawyers enter the picture. They'd get 30-40% of whatever I might win, and they can convince juries to award millions. The money temptation is huge, and even though I might not want to sue, suppose I had a family which had depended on me for financial support, and suddenly I was a quad on a respirator. Then it would become more than a mere temptation. When systems exist, they can be depended upon to be taken advantage of. And no one would say that it was the fault of my children if I had any, so people would be sympathetic, they would encourage litigious thinking, and sooner or later some slick parasite of a personal injury lawyer could be depended upon to surface via one kind of referral or another. Even now, there are firms which specialize in finding ways around the Equine Activity Liability Act. 

The exceptions provide fertile grounds for lawyers. One is to allege that equipment was defective. Another is to allege that the horse or stable owner "fail[ed] to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity and to determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine." Another is to allege a dangerous condition of land.

In other words, if I say that the saddle was defective and the owner should have known it was, and that the defect made me fall off, that the owner should have known what a naive idiot I was, or that there was a dangerous condition like a lot of mud or something, then maybe I could get around the immunity. In general, the more money there is at stake, the more likely that investigators can be found, and experts hired, to expound impressively on the egregious nature of the exceptions to immunity.

The bigger the tragedy the more money. And it's easy to rationalize the dishonesty when there is grief. After all, is it really fair that innocent family members should suffer because a man took risks?

Did the family agree to assume the risk?

So, much as I hate to say it, it seems that common sense is fine until tragedy happens. After that everything becomes complicated, and we are all entitled.

posted by Eric on 03.14.11 at 11:00 AM


I was in a shooting gallery the other day and there was no sign posted regarding the use of hypodermics.

pwt   ·  March 14, 2011 6:39 PM

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