How doyou determine who is responsible for paying medical expenses in a personal injury situation?

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How doyou determine who is responsible for paying medical expenses in a personal injury situation?

A somewhat experienced rider rides the same horse 2 -3 times each week. In exchange for riding the horse the rider cleans the stable each time she rides. On a fateful day while riding along a public road the horse is spooked by dogs and uncontrolled, runs through a barbed wire fence, throwing the rider. The horse is injured by the barbed wire fence and the rider is injured by impact on the ground. After the accident the rider learns that the horse is an ex-racehorse and is afraid of dogs. Who is responsible for the rider’s medical expenses and who is responsible for the horse’s vet bills?

Asked on February 19, 2012 under Personal Injury, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Most likely the  rider is responsible for his or her bills, while the horse's owner is responsible for the horse's bills.

First, in the absence of  fault--that is, a deliberate bad act, or negligence (unreasonable carelessness)--there are no grounds to recover damages or compensation from another. From what you describe, neither the rider (who apparently was simply riding normally) nor the horse's owner (who properly entrusted a horse to an experienced rider) did anything wrong.

Second, to the extent there *might* be any fault, an argument could be made (though I think it's a weak one) that the horse's owner was at fault in not warning the rider about the horse's dog fear. However, a person voluntarily participating in a potentially dangerous activity, like riding a horse, is generally held to assume the normal risks attendent upon that activity and cannot sue for them. A normal risk of riding a horse along a public road is that the horse could be spooked and the rider thrown--for example, if it wasn't dogs, it could have been a car going by too fast or honking or backfiring,, a bike rider who came near the horse, etc. Since a horse spooking and throwing a rider is a normal risk of riding, especially when riding in a non-controlled environment, it is almost certain that the rider would be held to have assumed the risk of being thrown like this, and would therefore be unable to recover commpensation.

Sometimes--even often--when there is an accident, there is no one who fiscally  or legally responsible for all the costs; rather, each person must bear his or her own costs.


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