California Deputy Attorney General Ellyn Levinson has lost her personal injury case against a rancher who allowed her to ride one of his horses as a party. A California court ruled that falling off the horse was Levinson’s own fault and not that of the owner.
Levinson was a guest at the cattle ranch of Bert and Anne Owens, who held a barbecue to celebrate a legal victory that Levinson had secured in court. As a lawyer representing the California Department of Conservation in 2005, Levinson won an injunction that prevented Tehama County from approving a lot line adjustment.
The Owens wanted to thank her and celebrate the win by inviting her and others out to the ranch. While she admits that she was asked if she could ride one of the horses by one of the guests (and answered yes), she insists that Bert Owens never asked her and should have protected her from the risk. Notably, from the outset, the horse named Pistol bucked a bit but Levinson continued on the ride.
Levinson rode Pistol out of the corral and into a field without a problem but, when the horse broke into a gallop, she was thrown into a feed bunk or trough. On the way down, her face hit a barbed-wire fence and she suffered facial cuts and a broken hip. She claimed negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
However, Tehama Superior Court Judge Edward J. King III granted summary judgment in favor of Bert and Anne Owens under the doctrine of assumption of risk.
Presiding Justice Arthur G. Scotland noted in his opinion that there is a difference between the legal responsibility of a host and a commercial operator in the use of horses: “they were not riding instructors and they did not direct Levinson to ride in any particular way, or in any particular place, that could increase the risk beyond that inherently involved in doing what Levinson asked to do—ride a cattle horse in the field of a cattle ranch.”
Indeed, the California courts have sent such cases to trial when the incident involved a commercial stable, here.
Scotland noted that the courts do not impose legal responsibilities of such hosts to obtain waivers or give lessons: “Indeed, imagine how awkward it would have been for Bert and Anne to question the attorney’s confident expression of competence as a horseback rider.”
Levinson is a graduate of Mills College and Loyola Law School, here.