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You Can't Ride Two Horses

Neil Cahill



Recently the High Court provided an interesting decision on the responsibilities of employers in the equine industry in the case of Liam Wright v Abbey Equine Limited Trading as Abbeyliex Stud Farm.
The Plaintiff was claiming damages from his employer, a stud farm, for injuries sustained when a horse kicked him in the face.  Specifically, the Plaintiff was working with other grooms to prepare yearlings for sale.  He was washing one of the legs of the horse, as another groom held its head, when he was kicked in the face and sustained serious injuries.

The Arguments
The Defendant advanced two key arguments. Firstly, it argued that the unexpected nature of the incident meant that no matter what steps and precautions it put in place, the accident could not have been prevented. In particular, the Defendant made the case that as there had never been any previous issue with the horse's behaviour, the accident was unforeseeable.

Secondly, the Defendant argued that it had a system in place at the time of the accident to protect its employees and that the Plaintiff as an experienced horseman was guilty of contributory negligence.  In particular, the Defendant alleged that the system in place was to "Sedate, Wash, Shoe" each horse.  The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff should not have proceeded with washing the horse until the sedation had taken place. The Plaintiff denied that any such system was in place and asserted that if there were such a system, it had not been communicated to him or other employees.

The Decision
The Court concluded the following:
  • Almost all the witnesses accepted that a horse presented a serious risk in that animals are inherently unpredictable.
  • An employer in the equine business had duties to reduce risk for their employees under the Safety, Health and Welfare Act 2005.  This included the risk that an animal may injure an employee.
  • The court accepted that an employer may not be rendered liable in the case of an unforeseen kick from a horse
  • However, in this case the kick was not unforeseen as the defendant alleged they had put a system in place to reduce risk with the Sedate, Wash, Shoe procedure when the horse were being prepared for sale
  • The Court commented that in this case, it was difficult to ride two horses that were apparently travelling in the opposite directions as an incident was either unforeseeable or it was not.
  • The Court assessed the Plaintiff's contributory negligence at 5% and awarded the Plaintiff €95,000.
This is an interesting case in that it reiterates the position that the Safety, Health and Welfare Act 2005 continues to apply in the equine industry but also from a procedural perspective is an example of the difficulty running opposing arguments in attempting to defend a matter.  Sometimes you just need to choose a horse!

Written by: Neil Cahill

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