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Franciosa v. Hidden Pond Farm, Inc.

Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Rockingham

September 21, 2018

ANTHONY W. FRANCIOSA, III f/n/f VANEESA S. FRANCIOSA
v.
HIDDEN POND FARM, INC. & a.

          Argued: March 8, 2018

          Colliander & Brown, P.A., of Portsmouth (John D. Colliander on the brief, and David S. Brown orally), for the plaintiff.

          Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC, of Manchester (Gary M. Burt on the brief and orally), for the defendants.

          BASSETT, J.

         The plaintiff, Anthony W. Franciosa as father and next friend of Vaneesa S. Franciosa, appeals an order of the Superior Court (Anderson, J.) granting the motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants, Jessica Grace Elliott and Hidden Pond Farm, Inc. a/k/a Hidden Pond Farm, and denying the plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment. The trial court ruled that, pursuant to RSA 508:19 (2010), the defendants were entitled to immunity from liability for the injuries Vaneesa sustained in a horseback riding accident. We affirm.

         The material facts are not in dispute. On July 20, 2014, Vaneesa was severely injured in a horseback riding accident. At the time of the accident, she was thirteen years old, had been riding horses for eight years, and had been taking weekly riding lessons from Elliott, an expert equestrian, for almost two years. Approximately once each week, Vaneesa also went on a "free ride" ― a ride that did not involve a lesson. On those occasions, Elliott was not always present and no one was assigned to supervise Vaneesa.

         On July 19, the day before the accident, Vaneesa texted Elliott to arrange a lesson for the following day. Elliott texted Vaneesa that, although she would not be present at the farm on the 20th, Vaneesa had permission to take a free ride on Wilma, a horse that Vaneesa had ridden without incident on at least two occasions. On July 20, after riding Wilma for about 30 minutes, Vaneesa fell to the ground as she tried to dismount. She was seriously injured when Wilma then stepped on her.

         Before turning to the instant lawsuit, it is useful to review the statutory scheme in New Hampshire governing the liability of any person engaged in an equine activity. See RSA 508:19, II. Notably, more than 25 states have similar statutes, see Annotation, Validity, Construction, and Application of Statutory Exemptions from Liability for Persons Injured by Equine or Equestrian Activities, 79 A.L.R.6th 487 (2012). Although courts in other jurisdictions have construed these statutes, see id., this is our first opportunity to interpret RSA 508:19. Enacted in 1998, RSA 508:19 limits the liability of persons engaged in equine activities "for an injury or the death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities." RSA 508:19, II. The pertinent portions of the statute are as follows:

I. In this section
. . . .
(f) "Inherent risks of equine activities" means those dangers and conditions which are an integral part of equine activities, including, but not limited to:
(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around them.
(2) The unpredictability of an equine's reaction to such things as sound, sudden movements, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals.
(3) Certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions not obvious to the equine participant or not known and reasonably not known by the equine professional or sponsor.
(4) Collisions with other equines or objects that can be reasonably foreseen as a result of normal equine activities.
(5) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury of the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the animal or not acting within the participant's ability; except where said negligence can be reasonably foreseen and the ...

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