In Texas, the owner of a farm animal is immune from liability for injuries caused by the animal to third parties if the Farm Animal Act applies, as shown by Lobue v. Hanson, 14-19-00175-CV, 2021 WL 1567731, at *1 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Apr. 22, 2021, no pet.). In this case, the Defendant owned 56 acres that he rented as a wedding venue. There were cattle and 2 horses on the property. The Plaintiff in this case was a bridesmaid attending a wedding being held on the property. The Plaintiff walked over to pet one of the two horses–Shiloh–who was roaming in the area enclosed for the patrons. “When she moved to pet the other horse, Shiloh disagreed, and grabbed her by the arm, shook her, and tossed her on the ground.” Id. at *1. The Houston Court of Appeals held that the Farm Animal Act protected the Defendant horse and property owner from liability.
The Plaintiff sued under theories of premises liability and negligence, claiming that the Defendant owner failed to warn the Plaintiff about the vicious tendencies of the horse and that by leaving the horse lose, the Defendant breached his duty as the owner of the facility to keep the property in a reasonable safe condition and was negligent.
Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and requested that the court rule as a matter of law that he was protected from liability under the Farm Animal Act.
The Farm Animal Act precludes liability against “any person, including a farm animal activity sponsor, farm animal professional, livestock producer, livestock show participant, or livestock show sponsor,” 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.”
Id at *3.
Under the Act, the Court stated that the Defendant was required to prove that 1) the Defendant qualified as a person entitled to seek protection, 2) the Plaintiff was a “participant”, 3) the Plaintiff participated in a “farm animal activity”, and 4) the Plaintiff’s injuries resulted from an “inherent risk.”
Not surprisingly, the Court found that the Defendant owner fell within the class of protected persons under the Act. Somewhat surprisingly, the Court readily found that being injured from petting a horse was an “inherent risk” under the Act. Most of the Court’s analysis focused on whether the Plaintiff was a “participant” in a “farm animal activity.” The Court found that since the definition of a “farm animal activity” under the act includes “handling” a farm animal, then the Plaintiff participated in a farm animal activity by petting the horse. Thus, the Court concluded that the Defendant was protected from liability under the Act.
I am not sure that I would have guessed the outcome of this one. Having grown up around horses, I would not have considered being grabbed by a horse and thrown to the ground an inherent risk in petting the horse. Further, it seems a stretch to find that petting a horse is considered “handling” a farm animal. However, this case does seem to indicate that the courts are willing to apply the Farm Animal Act broadly to protect owners from liability for injuries caused by their farm animals and livestock.