Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/18/2003 10:45 AM House JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 176 - CIVIL LIABILITY FOR LIVESTOCK ACTIVITIES                                                                             
Number 2090                                                                                                                     
CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the  next order of business would be                                                               
CS  FOR SENATE  BILL  NO.  176(JUD), "An  Act  relating to  civil                                                               
liability  for   injuries  or  death  resulting   from  livestock                                                               
Number 2087                                                                                                                     
SENATOR RALPH  SEEKINS, Alaska State  Legislature, sponsor  of SB
176, relayed  that this legislation  was introduced in  the prior                                                               
legislature and was crafted as part  of a project by 4-H members.                                                               
He  mentioned  that at  the  time,  both  he  and his  wife  were                                                               
involved  in  that project;  that  the  legislation is  patterned                                                               
after Oklahoma  law; and that if  SB 176 is adopted,  Alaska will                                                               
be  the  last  state  to  have  a  limitation  of  liability  for                                                               
livestock  activity,   though  some  states   have  "contributory                                                               
negligence   standards   that   apply   directly   to   livestock                                                               
liability."   He  noted  that  he has  worked  with the  American                                                               
Quarter   Horse    Association   (AQHA)   and    other   national                                                               
organizations  to  ensure  that  SB 176  complies  with  what  is                                                               
happening in the rest  of the nation, and that he  is a member of                                                               
the AQHA's public policy board.                                                                                                 
SENATOR  SEEKINS said  that SB  176  says a  person assumes  some                                                               
degree  of  risk  when  in the  vicinity  of  livestock,  because                                                               
livestock  owners,  even  with the  best  of  intentions,  cannot                                                               
completely prevent accidents from  happening.  He assured members                                                               
that  SB 176  does not  protect livestock  owners who  act in  an                                                               
unreasonable manner;  rather, by reducing some  of the liability,                                                               
the expectation is  that an atmosphere will be  created that will                                                               
encourage more livestock activity.   He noted that Oklahoma has a                                                               
lot of livestock  activity, which he attributed  to its livestock                                                               
liability  statutes.    He  said  he  would  appreciate  members'                                                               
support of SB 176.                                                                                                              
CHAIR McGUIRE noted  that 4-H members visited with  her last year                                                               
in support of  this legislation, and as a result  of that and her                                                               
work on the "Worldwide Special  Olympics Campaign," she'd come to                                                               
realize that  many equestrian centers  are reluctant to  cater to                                                               
handicapped  individuals  because  of   liability  issues.    She                                                               
predicted  that SB  176 will  have profound  consequences, adding                                                               
that  she really  appreciated what  the  4-H members  had to  say                                                               
during their visit with her last year.                                                                                          
Number 1892                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG said  that  although he  could see  the                                                               
need for  the bill, he did  have questions regarding a  couple of                                                               
its provisions.  He turned attention  to page 3, lines 30-31, and                                                               
said  it would  seems  to say  that the  owner  of an  enterprise                                                               
wouldn't be liable no matter how badly an employee acted.                                                                       
SENATOR SEEKINS  clarified that  it says the  owner could  not be                                                               
held  "vicariously  liable"  for  the  acts  or  omissions  of  a                                                               
participant or livestock professional.   He offered the following                                                               
     If someone were to come  in there and do something with                                                                    
     their  animal that  would cause  ... damage  to another                                                                    
     animal,  the   sponsor  could   not  be   held  liable,                                                                    
     vicariously, for that action  because you can't control                                                                    
     the  actions of  other participants  ... or  of another                                                                    
     professional.    So  I think  it's  just  limiting  the                                                                    
     vicarious liability exposure there ....                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG suggested  that  by limiting  vicarious                                                               
liability, the  legislature would be  going further than  it ever                                                               
has before with regard to the issue of limiting damages.                                                                        
SENATOR SEEKINS remarked  that people are looking  for new causes                                                               
of action, an  example of which is using  vicarious liability "to                                                               
get  into   the  deep  pockets   even  though  someone   was  not                                                               
responsible for  the action."   He offered  that the  language on                                                               
page  3, lines  30-31, "is  just clarifying  that, ...  [that] if                                                               
someone else causes damage and you  weren't it, you can't be held                                                               
vicariously  liable for  someone  else's activities."   He  added                                                               
that  this  language   does  not  pertain  to   the  behavior  of                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE OGG  mentioned that  a good  example of  "this" is                                                               
bull riding:   "You own the bull  and you put it  into the county                                                               
fair for people to ride on it,  and this covers the activity of a                                                               
participant or  a professional who's  going to get on  that bull,                                                               
and [if] he falls off of that bull, it's not your problem."                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG said  he  now sees  the  point of  that                                                               
language.   He then turned  attention to  page 4, lines  1-2, and                                                               
noted that  it says a  person can  waive his/her entire  right to                                                               
recover damages.                                                                                                                
Number 1715                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  SEEKINS  pointed out,  however,  that  the damages  that                                                               
language is referring  to are those that result  from an inherent                                                               
risk  of  a  livestock  activity,  not  those  that  result  from                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  then turned attention to  page 4, lines                                                               
17-18, which  lists one of the  things that could be  included as                                                               
an  aspect of  the  inherent risk  of  livestock activities,  and                                                               
which read, "the  potential of a person to  negligently engage in                                                               
conduct  that  contributes  to  an   injury  or  death  during  a                                                               
livestock  activity".    He  remarked  that  the  other  proposed                                                               
aspects of inherent risk seem to focus on livestock or tack.                                                                    
SENATOR SEEKINS offered the example  of an incident that occurred                                                               
at  the Alaska  State Fair  in Palmer  during the  Miller's Reach                                                               
fire.    A  lot  of  livestock from  the  surrounding  area  were                                                               
evacuated  to  fairgrounds  and this  resulted  in  very  crowded                                                               
conditions.   One  woman chose  to ride  her horse  despite these                                                               
crowded conditions,  and when she  fell off her horse  because it                                                               
got spooked  by other  livestock, she sued  the fairgrounds.   He                                                               
said  that the  language on  lines 17-18  is intended  to address                                                               
such situations.                                                                                                                
CHAIR  McGUIRE asked  Senator Seekins  how  he came  up with  the                                                               
definition of "livestock".                                                                                                      
SENATOR  SEEKINS   said  it  was  garnered   from  other  states'                                                               
statutory  definitions and  input from  the Alaska  Department of                                                               
Fish and Game (ADF&G).                                                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE GARA, noting that  peafowls and pigeons are listed                                                               
in  the definition,  asked whether  any cases  have been  brought                                                               
because  of  damage caused  by  those  creatures.   Is  there  an                                                               
explosion of pigeon liability litigation out there?                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG remarked that peacocks are vicious.                                                                    
SENATOR  SEEKINS  added  that  peacocks  are  dangerous  in  some                                                               
respects because  they are  unpredictable.   He pointed  out that                                                               
his primary concern  is with fairs and expositions.   If one goes                                                               
to a fair or exposition and  sticks a finger in the pigeon cages,                                                               
for example, there is the inherent risk of getting bitten.                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA noted  that  the  definition specifies  that                                                               
dogs and cats would not be considered livestock.                                                                                
SENATOR  SEEKINS  relayed  that that  specification  is  standard                                                               
language in all other states' statutes.                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG, turning attention  to the definition of                                                               
livestock,  asked whether  there  would be  future  bills to  add                                                               
other species to the list.                                                                                                      
SENATOR  SEEKINS said  he didn't  think so  because the  proposed                                                               
list is "pretty all-inclusive."   In response to other questions,                                                               
he indicated that "domestic cow"  includes cattle, bulls, steers,                                                               
and oxen; that  elephants are not considered  livestock; and that                                                               
SB 176 does not pertain to circus animals.                                                                                      
Number 1343                                                                                                                     
STEVE CONN, Special Projects Coordinator, Alaska Public Interest                                                                
Research Group (AkPIRG), opined that SB 176 will lead to                                                                        
unintended consequences.  He elaborated:                                                                                        
     This  expansion   of  livestock  to   include  rabbits,                                                                    
     hamsters,  guinea  pigs,   turkeys,  chickens,  and  so                                                                    
     forth, and  [characterizing] them, as a  matter of law,                                                                    
     as  being inherently  dangerous,  and  then creating  a                                                                    
     duty  on  the   part  of  a  participant   "to  make  a                                                                    
     [reasonable] and  prudent effort"  - quoting  from page                                                                    
     3,  lines 17-18  -  "to determine  the  ability of  the                                                                    
     participant to  safely manage" it ...,  this could find                                                                    
     its way into pet  shops [and] retail department stores.                                                                    
     I just  think that  the original intent,  which relates                                                                    
     to  things like  rodeos, Palmer  Fair, livestock  shows                                                                    
     involving big animals, takes you  in the direction that                                                                    
     you want to go.                                                                                                            
     But the pictures  that jump into my head  ..., in fact,                                                                    
     in some  strange way, place additional  duties on those                                                                    
     that  manage these  inherently  dangerous animals  like                                                                    
     the pony ride that finds  its way behind the Sears mall                                                                    
     every year  for kids, because  it does appear  that the                                                                    
     persons  who are  the potential  victims here  are also                                                                    
     minors as well as adults.   And so I think there's been                                                                    
     overkill, in  the drafting,  to take  you away  - guide                                                                    
     you away - from your serious concerns.                                                                                     
     And you  are going  to end  up, by  characterizing this                                                                    
     vast  reach of  animals as  being inherently  dangerous                                                                    
     because  they're  now  considered  livestock,  in  some                                                                    
     strange  ways,  you  may  end up  raising  the  bar  of                                                                    
     responsibility,  rather  than   immunizing  people  who                                                                    
     manage these  sorts of situations  in a  "Wal-Mart," or                                                                    
     in a  pet store, or in  a pony ride and  other sorts of                                                                    
     circumstances.  So I  would strongly recommend, despite                                                                    
     the fact this bill has a  long history, that it be held                                                                    
     over  and focused  to  meet the  sponsor  and the  [4-H                                                                    
     members'] fundamental concerns  about large animals and                                                                    
     the dangers inherent in using, showing, managing, and                                                                      
     offering up to the public the large animals. ... Thank                                                                     
     you very much.                                                                                                             
Number 1198                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  said that  the issue of  the pony  rides did                                                               
make him wonder  whether they should exempt little  kids from the                                                               
bill; for  example, not have SB  176 apply to kids  under the age                                                               
of 13.                                                                                                                          
SENATOR  SEEKINS  responded that  the  language  in the  bill  is                                                               
"fairly  uniform language  in  all the  other  states," and  that                                                               
there have been  no reports, of which he is  aware, of unintended                                                               
consequences.  He added that  he hopes that "parents or guardians                                                               
would be  responsible for whether  they chose to put  their child                                                               
... in  a dangerous  situation."  He  assured the  committee that                                                               
should a  child get hurt  as a result of  the operator of  a pony                                                               
ride  not paying  attention, the  operator would  not be  granted                                                               
immunity under SB 176.                                                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  mentioned his  belief that SB  176 will                                                               
help one of his constituents.                                                                                                   
CHAIR  McGUIRE, after  determining  that no  one  else wished  to                                                               
testify, closed the public testimony on SB 176.                                                                                 
Number 1101                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS  moved to  report  CSSB  176(JUD) out  of                                                               
committee with  individual recommendations [and  the accompanying                                                               
zero fiscal note].   There being no objection,  CSSB 176(JUD) was                                                               
reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.                                                                           

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