Some Internet romances work out, some do not.
Barbara and William met through an online dating service in January 2005. Their profiles included photographs of them riding horses and after chatting by e-mail and telephone, the two decided to meet in person. They discussed their respective riding expertise on the first date: Barbara said that she had ridden and owned horses in the past but that she had not been riding in a long time; William’s experience was more limited, but he owned a horse.
On a subsequent date the pair went to a stable in Westchester, New York, to ride. During the ride, William and a friend decided to take a few jumps with their mounts. Barbara chose not to jump, and she rode the horse that had been given to her, an Appaloosa named "Teddy," to the end of the course of jumps. Teddy lunged and Barbara came off. She suffered debilitating injuries and later filed a personal injury lawsuit against William.
Her claim was that William "failed to appreciate (Barbara’s) level of skill as a horseback rider, failed to provide her with a gentle and obedient horse, and failed to both warn her and to comply with her request to ride in a slow and careful manner." William’s defense was that he did not owe his date any duty of care and that there was no legal basis for the lawsuit.
To win a negligence lawsuit such as this one, the plaintiff must prove several things: (1) that a legal duty exists requiring the defendant either to do something or not to do something; (2) that the defendant breached the legal duty; (3) that the plaintiff suffered harm; and, (4) that the breach of duty caused the harm. According to a New York County trial court, Barbara’s lawsuit never made it past the first element.
Horseback riding is an inherently dangerous activity, the court explained, the hazards including injury due to the "sudden and unintended actions of the animals, including those actions which result in the participant being thrown or falling." By her voluntary participation, Barbara assumed the risks of being injured while riding.
Furthermore, the fact that Barbara and William were on a date did not create a duty of care sufficient to sustain a negligence lawsuit:
"The parties, who had only recently met, were on a date," the court said. "The nature of their relationship did not obligate the Defendant (William) to assess and accommodate the Plaintiff’s (Barbara’s) level of expertise and experience. . . . To read a duty of care into a purely social arrangement between adults who decide to go horseback riding would undoubtedly and improperly expand the existing channels of liability and set off a proliferation of claims based solely on social experiences gone awry." The proliferation of so-called reality courtroom television programs notwithstanding, not all dating issues can be resolved in front of a judge.
Barbara testified that she told William that she would need a gentle horse because she had not ridden in a long time, and that her date had assured her that she would be given a horse to match her skill level. She said that she relied on William’s statements because "in the equestrian world, there is a way equestrians take care of each other." That reliance apparently was misplaced. Dismissal of Barbara’s lawsuit by the trial court was upheld on appeal.
What precautions do you take to keep friends safe when they come to your farm to ride?