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Hold Your Horses!: Limitations on Liability in Recreational Equine Activities

Few things are as synonymous with Texas culture and heritage as horseback riding. Yet it is an activity which offers numerous risks of injury. In recognition of these known risks, and the importance of livestock to the state, the Texas Legislature enacted the Texas Equine Act in 1995. The Equine Act, as amended¹, provides:

  • [A]ny person, including a farm animal activity sponsor, farm animal professional, livestock producer, livestock show participant, or livestock show sponsor, is not liable for property damage or damages arising from the personal injury or death of a participant in a farm animal activity or livestock show if the property damage, injury, or death results from the dangers or conditions that are an inherent risk of a farm animal activity or the showing of an animal on a competitive basis in a livestock show

TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE 87.003. The Act therefore shields those who provide or otherwise offer horses and other livestock for recreational use from liability for injuries sustained form so-called inherent risks of these activities. Among such inherent risks identified in the statute are:

  1. the propensity of a farm animal or livestock animal to behave in ways that may result in personal injury or death to a person on or around it;
  2. the unpredictability of a farm animal’s or livestock animal’s reaction to sound, a sudden movement, or an unfamiliar object, person, or other animal;
  3. with respect to farm animal activities involving equine animals, certain land conditions and hazards, including surface and subsurface conditions;
  4. a collision with another animal or an object; or
  5. the potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or another, including failing to maintain control over a farm animal or livestock animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.

TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE 87.003. This list of inherent risks is not, however, exclusive. See Loftin v. Lee, 341 S.W.3d 352, 356 (Tex. 2011). Surprisingly, among the unlisted inherent risks recognized by our courts is the risk that your activity’s sponsor will be negligent. See Loftin v. Lee, 341 S.W.3d at 357. The Act does, however, provide exceptions to its protections. These exceptions are for equipment provided by a defendant and known to be faulty; known latent conditions of the land; and willful, wanton, or intentional conduct. See generally TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE 87.004. Additionally, the Act does not protect a defendant who provided the animal, but did not make a reasonable and prudent effort to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the farm animal activity or livestock show and determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the farm animal or livestock animal, taking into account the participant’s representations of ability. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE 87.004(2).

Contact Us

At the law offices of Bailey & Galyen, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To set up an appointment with an experienced Texas personal injury attorney, contact us by e-mail or call our offices at one of our convenient locations. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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¹The Act was amended in 2011 to provide the same limitations of liability described herein to most livestock activities in general, as opposed to just equine activities.

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WHO MAY BRING A CLAIM WHEN SOMEONE IS KILLED?

Who May Bring A Claim When Someone is Killed?When someone is killed and it was the fault of another person or company Texas law allows certain family members to file suit for wrongful death. These family members include the decedent’s spouse, children, and parents. No one else may bring a claim. Grandparents, siblings, foster parents, and other relatives are not entitled to bring a wrongful death claim, no matter how close they were to the decedent or financially dependent upon him they were. Stepchildren and stepparents of the decedent may not bring a wrongful death claim unless there had been an adoption. The wrongful death claimants may sue for their mental anguish, pecuniary loss (such as loss of care, maintenance, support, services, advice, counsel and monetary contributions they would have received from the decedent if he or she had lived), loss of companionship and society, and loss of inheritance.

The decedent’s estate also has what is known as a survival claim. This is a claim for the pain and mental anguish the decedent suffered before death, medical expenses for treatment of the decedent’s injuries, and funeral and burial expenses. Any money recovered by the estate in a survival claim will be distributed according to the decedent’s will or, if there is no will, then to the decedent’s heirs under the Texas law of intestacy.

When a person is killed by another’s negligence and a close relative witnesses the event, that relative may have what is known as a bystander claim. Generally Texas law requires that 1) the person was near the scene of the accident, 2) the shock to the bystander resulted from a direct emotional impact from observing the accident, and 3) the bystander was closely related to the decedent. An example would be a fatal car wreck where a passenger witnesses the death of a relative.

Contact Us

At the law offices of Bailey & Galyen, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To set up an appointment with an experienced Texas personal injury attorney, contact us by e-mail or call our offices at one of our convenient locations. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Extended Limitations Period for Personal Injury Claims Based on Criminal Sexual Conduct

Attorneys can generally, almost instinctively, name the applicable statute of limitations for a particular cause of action. Under Texas law, however, the statute of limitations applicable to a particular cause of action may vary based on the facts and circumstances underlying the cause of action. These exceptions to the statute of limitations may come as a surprise, even to experienced attorneys.

Ordinarily, a person must bring suit for personal injury on or before the two-year anniversary of the day the cause of action accrues. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 16.003(a). A cause of action based on personal injury accrues when events have occurred that allow a person to seek a judicial remedy. Robinson v. Weaver, 550 S.W.2d 18, 19 (Tex. 1977). For example, a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress accrues when the wrongful act is committed that causes the claimant to suffer emotional distress. Long v. Houston Northwest Medical Center, Inc., 1991 Tex. App. Houston 1991 WL 19837 (Tex. App. Houston 1st Dist. Feb. 14, 1991). Predictably, certain principles, such as the discovery rule, work to limit this general rule.

An important caveat to the two-year statute of limitations applies to certain personal injury claims. A five- year, not two-year, limitations period applies when the plaintiff’s claim is predicated on conduct that also constitutes violation of a specifically enumerated criminal statute, including sexual assault and continuous sexual abuse of a young child. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 16.0045(a). Further, when the plaintiff is a minor at the time the cause of action accrues, the statute of limitations is tolled until the child’s eighteenth birthday, meaning that a plaintiff has until his or her twenty-third birthday to file suit. See Doe v. Catholic Diocese of El Paso, 362 S.W.3d 707, 717 (Tex. App. El Paso 2011). Ostensibly, the statute only encompasses claims based on personal injury resulting directly from conduct that violates one of the enumerated criminal statutes. Texas courts have applied the statute liberally, however. Not only does the five-year limitations period apply to tort claims based directly on a defendant’s violation of one of the enumerated criminal statutes (e.g., battery), but also to causes of action against other defendants whose negligence, for example, may have contributed to the plaintiff’s injury. See Id.

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The Truth About the Family Member Exclusion in Texas Automobile Policies

At one time most Texas automobile liability insurance policies included a so-called family member exclusion which foreclosed liability coverage for any claim made by a family member against a family member. This exclusion was included in these policies based upon the insurance industry’s argument that providing coverage for claims by family members against family members would encourage fraud and collusion. In reality, excluded coverage for that class of individuals most likely to be injured, other than yourself, in an automobile collision other family members. It was in this backdrop that the Texas Supreme Court, in 1993, took up the issue of the family member exclusion in the case of National County Mutual Fire Insurance Co. v. Johnson, 879 S.W.2d 1 (Tex. 1993).

In Johnson, a policy holder’s truck collided with another automobile. His wife, a passenger in the truck, was injured and subsequently brought suit against him for negligence. Id. The policy-holder’s insurer, however, denied his request for a defense, stating that “Endorsement 575,” a family member exclusion clause, precluded coverage for a liability claim brought by a family member such as his wife. Id. The policy-holder filed a declaratory judgment action to determine his rights under the policy, while the insurer counterclaimed, asking the court to determine whether Endorsement 575 was valid under Texas law. Id.

On appeal of an adverse judgment in the trial court against the insurer, the Texas Supreme Court held that to the extent the family member exclusion purported to deny a family member’s claim within the minimum liability insurance limits required by Texas law, such exclusion was invalid:

  • Here, the Board’s approval of the family member exclusion results in a situation in which a claimant for damages resulting from an automobile accident is not allowed to recover damages under an automobile liability insurance policy that the legislature statutorily requires to protect such claimants from losses. The exclusion prevents a specific class of innocent victims, those persons related to and living with the negligent driver, from receiving financial protection under an insurance policy. Such a result is clearly contrary to the express legislative mandate. The Board’s action in approving a family member exclusion providing for such scenarios is inconsistent with the statutory purpose of the Act, and thus their approval of the exclusion is ineffective.

Id. at 3.

Hence, in Texas a family member may make a claim against a relative’s motor vehicle liability insurance for injuries received in a motor vehicle accident caused by that relatives negligence up to the minimum liability limited provided under Texas law currently $30,000 for each injured person, up to a total of $60,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage per accident. Despite this fact, even today insurers will sometimes purport to deny claims in their entirety under the family law exclusion. So arm yourself with the truth, and be aware that even if your automobile accident injuries were caused by the negligence of a family member, 30/60/25 coverage is still available to you as a matter of law.

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¹This basic coverage is referred to as 30/60/25 coverage.

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Who has a claim when someone is wrongfully killed

When a person is wrongfully killed in Texas due to the fault of another person, company, or a defective product the law provides two types of claims that may be brought. The first is a wrongful death claim which may be brought by the surviving spouse, parents and children of the deceased. Siblings and other relatives may not bring a claim. The damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death claim include pecuniary loss (loss of the care, maintenance, support, services, advice, counsel, and contributions of a monetary nature that the survivor would have received from the decedent), loss of companionship and society (such as loss of love, comfort, and companionship the survivor sustained), mental anguish (emotional pain, torment, and suffering), and loss of inheritance. Of course the person bringing the wrongful death claim will have to have evidence of these damages. Although it is virtually impossible to put a dollar value of some of these things, juries in wrongful death cases are asked to do so.

The second type of claim that may be brought in Texas when someone is wrongfully killed is a survival claim. This claim may be brought by the estate of the deceased or a representative of the estate. The damages that may be recovered include the pain and mental anguish that the decedent experienced before his death, medical expenses for the treatment of the decedent’s injuries, and funeral and burial expenses. When a person dies instantly in an accident and does not incur any medical bills, a survival claim is limited to the funeral and burial expenses. On the other hand if the decedent experienced suffering before death then damages for pain and mental anguish may be awarded.

Exemplary or punitive damages may be recovered in both survival and wrongful death claims if there was gross negligence. The purpose of these damages is to punish the wrongdoer and to deter such conduct in the future.

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