- August 16, 2022
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Wrongful Death
Animals introduce an element of unpredictability into any situation. No matter how even-tempered and well-trained they may be, animals have moods and impulses of their own, and a limited ability to communicate them to their human handlers. Horses, in particular, are rightly known for their nervous temperaments, and it’s impossible to be sure what might spook a given horse on a given day.
In general, commercial property owners’ safety responsibilities are tied to predictability. Accidents that can be foreseen and prevented, like a guest slipping on an unmarked wet floor, are the owner’s fault, whereas accidents that come out of nowhere, like a meteorite strike, are not.
When it comes to animal behavior, however, a certain degree of unpredictability is predictable. Property owners who hold events involving live animals should be aware that horses may spook, llamas may bite, and bulls may gore. Failing to account for these possibilities when building structures and planning activities can lead to serious injuries and death.
A Young Woman Has Been Killed by a Rodeo Horse in Chatsworth
On July 8th, during a rodeo event at the Murray County Saddle Club, a runaway horse broke through a cattle fence and hit one of the arena gates. The gate then swung into the face of a 20-year-old guest, Breanna Chadwick, knocking her unconscious.
Although emergency services were already on site, and the woman was quickly airlifted to Erlanger Hospital, she ultimately died of her injuries. She is leaving behind a large extended family, including her parents, Kristy and Heath.
Chadwick’s death has been repeatedly described as a freak accident, but as is so often the case when those words pop up, it’s not really all that “freak.” Serious injuries happen quite regularly at rodeos, and contact with both heavy gates and rogue animals are frequent causes.
While rodeo events will always be somewhat dangerous, hosts do have a responsibility to anticipate these potential accidents and take reasonable steps to prevent them, especially for non-participants like Chadwick.
Equine Liability Law Does Not Give Rodeos Complete Immunity
Like most states, Georgia has an equine liability law, which places restrictions on lawsuits for horse-related injuries. Equine liability laws are intended to protect traditional equine activities, like rodeos, for those who choose to participate in spite of the known, inherent risks.
That said, equine liability laws are not a free pass to be careless about human safety so long as there are horses around. As the Georgia Horse Council warns horse and venue owners, there are limits to the immunity provided under equine liability laws. Namely:
- The immunity only protects event sponsors and equine professionals, not private horse owners.
- Immunity does not apply to injuries unrelated to the horses, even when horses are present.
- The injured person must be a participant in an equine activity, or immunity does not apply.
That last one is particularly notable in the Murray County Saddle Club case, because Chadwick was not participating in the rodeo. As a spectator, she was entitled to the same care and safety as any guest on any property that is open to the public.
If you are Kristy or Heath Chadwick, or if you have also been injured or lost a loved one at an equine event, please feel free to reach out to The Stoddard Firm to learn more about your rights.