Legal Memorandum: Liability for Injuries Caused by a Horse

Issue: What liability, if any, does a runaway horse’s owner have for injuries caused by the horse?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Owner's strict liabiity; Runaway horse; Injuries caused
Jurisdiction: Washington
Cited Cases: 86 P. 1125; 531 P.2d 805; 492 P.2d 101; 606 P.2d 275; 142 P. 685
Cited Statutes: Restatement (Second) of Torts § 518
Date: 08/01/2011

The general rule followed in most jurisdictions that under ordinary negligence principles, the owner or keeper of a horse or other domestic animal causing injury to others is liable for his negligence proximately and forseeably resulting in the injury.  See St. Germain v. Dutchess County Agr. Soc’y, 712 N.Y.S.2d 146, 148-49 (App. Div. 2000) (injured plaintiff, a fairgoer, who was trampled by animal that broke free from its handler and ran amongst fairgoers could maintain action against both owners of animal and operators of fair on general negligence principles); Barnett v. La Mesa Post No. 282, 99 P.2d 650, 651 (Cal. 1940) (sponsor of parade and owner and rider of horse which struck plaintiffs who were watching formation of parade were liable for any failure to exercise ordinary care regardless of whether plaintiffs were licensees or invitees).  The Restatement (Second) of Torts states the rule as follows:

[O]ne who possesses or harbors a domestic animal that he does not know or have reason to know to be abnormally dangerous, is subject to liability for harm done by the animal if . . .


(b) he is negligent in failing to prevent the harm.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 518.

This general rule is followed in Washington.  See Misterek v. Wash. Mineral Prods., Inc., 81 Wash. 2d 1013, 531 P.2d 805, 807 (1975) (where horses left property, entered adjacent highway through unmended fence and caused car accident, court imposed liability on […]

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