Legislature(1995 - 1996)

02/28/1996 03:20 PM L&C

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
 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.                                                                    
                                                                               

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