Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/28/1996 03:20 PM L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 479 - IMMUNITY FOR EQUINE ACTIVITIES Number 608 CHAIRMAN KOTT announced the committee would address HB 479, "An Act relating to civil liability for injuries or death resulting from equine activities." REPRESENTATIVE GARY DAVIS, sponsor of HB 479, said there are a lot of things that happen in this world that a lot of people aren't responsible for, but other people feel that somebody must be responsible except themselves. The bill is intended to give handlers of the equine profession extra protection from civil liability lawsuits. The reasoning behind this proposition is that horses and related animals can be unpredictable in their behavior. This unpredictability is an inherent characteristic of some domestic animals, especially equines, because of their size and specific utilization for human activities. A horse that is carrying a rider can easily be spooked by a number of events. If the rider is subsequently thrown from the horse, the owner or trainer may not be directly responsible for the accident. He noted people do sometimes wear spurs and it is not always the horses or their owner's fault. This would be true as long as the owner or trainer has cared for and trained the equine in the best possible manner. REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS said there are a number of exceptions to this legislation. If the owner or trainer is negligent, improperly caring for the horse or uses faulty equipment, they would not be immune from civil liability. The bill also recognizes other exceptions such as placing an obviously inexperienced rider on a high spirited horse known for demonstrating unpredictable behavior. Representative Davis noted he has received correspondence from involved parties. Number 751 REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN PORTER referred to the bill and questioned the meaning of a "hinny." REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS indicated he didn't know. Number 785 REPRESENTATIVE BEVERLY MASEK referred to page 1, line 11 and asked what the definition is of "reckless conduct." REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS said he is sure everybody has their own definition. He said this piece of legislation doesn't have the definition and he couldn't answer specifically. Number 834 REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN PORTER explained reckless or intentional misconduct is a standard of misconduct that has been dealt with by courts for a long time in the state. There are a number of court decisions that have identified exactly reckless conduct is. In other words, in legal parliaments it is understood. It basically means an act that a reasonable person would conclude would have the result that did occur. You're reckless if you fire a gun into a crowd. You may not have intended to hit anybody but the natural probable result of that act was that somebody was going to get hit and perhaps killed. That is reckless conduct. It is a very high standard and it is a standard above negligence. REPRESENTATIVE MASEK questioned whether that is different from gross negligence is which is on page 1, line 13 and 14. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER said that makes it even more restrictive to a higher standard. REPRESENTATIVE GENE KUBINA said there must be an absolute definition written for the terms used. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER explained there are definitions in various statutes that apply to that particular body of law. He said he didn't know if there was one in this chapter. The general standard of severity is intentional, reckless, gross negligence and negligence. Number 1010 BILL TURNER, Equine Professional, Alaska State Horsemen, Incorporated, testified via teleconference from Wasilla. He explained that his organization represents about 300 people in the Anchorage Mat-Su Valley area and indirectly represents another 500 or 600 through affiliated clubs. He said they feel that the bill is a good bill in its general intentions. It is good public policy to have inherent risk of an activity assumed by those who have chosen on their own to engage in that activity. He said there is currently a law similar to this bill but it is in regards to skiing and ski areas. Similar legislation has also been enacted in about 15 or 16 other states throughout the country. Mr. Turner said this would be a (indisc.) to the horse industry within the state because he expects insurance premiums would be lowered and, therefore, help more horse activities occur within the state. Mr. Turner noted he has faxed some suggested changes to Representative Davis which would help close some of the loopholes. Number 1142 MARCIA BOYD, Owner, Twinview Horse Park in Wasilla, was next to testify via teleconference from Mat-Su. She said she agrees with Mr. Turner that this bill will be a boom to the horse industry in Alaska. It would open up many more activities that are currently not being looked at because of the liability involved. Ms. Boyd informed the committee she has been told by her insurance company that if Alaska has such a law, her insurance premiums would go down. Her insurance company would be willing to allow more (indisc.) at her facility that they are not currently willing to stand behind because of the liability picture as it currently stands. Ms. Boyd explained she has sent a statement to Representative Davis which outlines her ideas. She said she would like to elaborate on the fact that when (indisc.) his or her own horse, the sponsor of an event cannot possibly determine the suitability of the horse to the rider. The sponsor can't be expected to intervene between a horse and his rider or owner even though there are countless instances where people buy horses that are too much for them. That is not anyone's business but their own. Ms. Boyd referred to page 2, line 12, and said it limits the liability exemptions to people who are riding, driving or training horses. She said handlers of horses who are also at risk and don't fall into any of the three above mentioned categories need to be recognized as handlers from the ground. Sponsors should be protected from liability of accidents occurring to handlers. Ms. Boyd said she doesn't think spectators should be eliminated from the bill if they choose to attend an equine activity, they've made that choice and just being around a horse, by nature, is dangerous because of the unpredictability of the response of a horse. You can do your best to be safe and prevent accidents, but if a motorcycle drives by and sprays the horses or a helicopter flies overhead, a spectator could easily be hurt and the sponsor shouldn't be held responsible. Number 1322 REPRESENTATIVE KIM ELTON said normally, if you sign your child up for little league or karate lessons or you join a health club, generally you're asked to sign a waiver of liability. He asked Ms. Boyd if she requires that with her business. If so, why is there the additional need for legislation. MS. BOYD explained she has a waiver of liability she had drawn up by an attorney. She said she has also been told by that attorney it really won't hold up in court. Number 1372 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS explained in response to Representative Elton's question, a lot of those organizations, especially little league, have a large amount of insurance that covers their events. He said he thinks it is provided through their national organization. CHAIRMAN KOTT referred to Mr. Turner sending Representative Davis some suggested changes and asked Representative Davis if he cares to address them. REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS explained he has received requests from involved people. He said a lot of the suggested changes were what he considered somewhat "boiler plate" and "housekeeping" measures. He said he has decided not to request a sponsor substitute. Representative Davis explained he received some of the same recommendations from Ms. Boyd, Mr. Turner and Lee Woodman. Representative Davis referred to page 2, line 5, relating to injury or death of a spectator and said he would like to see that whole paragraph taken out of the bill. He said he could come back before the committee with a committee substitute. Number 1488 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER referred to Ms. Boyd's concern relating to a horse or an owner who should not be held responsible for the adaptability of the owner of the horse to his/her own horse. He said he doesn't think that is what is required on line 8, page 2, "the failure of the equine activity sponsor or equine professional who provided the equine to make reasonable efforts to determine the ability of the injured person...." Representative Porter said he doesn't think that would then require someone who is just boarding a horse which is owned by someone else, to make sure that that "someone else" knows how to ride their own horse. REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS said, "Also, on page 2, line 6, it's probably -- it doesn't seem logical to exempt equipment or tack provided by an equine... It does seem logical to provide as in a defective equipment or tack - would seem to be more logical. And another amendment that I would strongly consider is page 2, line 14, indicates a defective product. I would roll that up into line 6. `A defective product, equipment or tack provided by an equine activity sponsor or professional.'" Number 1588 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said there are two kinds of defective product. One would be a defective product that is provided by the manufacturer. The other could be a defective product that is defective because of lack of upkeep on the part of the business owner. He said if they are rolled together, it may be going too far. REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS said he agrees it should probably be spelled out. Number 1700 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said it would be a matter of evidentiary proof if there is a cause of action about whether the equipment is defective or not. You have the right to bring a cause of action over the equipment and that is how the bill is written. He said the bill is alright as it is currently written. CHAIRMAN KOTT referred to some suggested changes faxed to his office from Wendy Yardley and asked Representative Davis if he has received them. REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS indicated he doesn't have Ms. Yardley's information. CHAIRMAN KOTT said he would like to hold the bill until the following Wednesday so that a committee substitute could be developed.