A New Jersey judge recently denied dressage trainer Cesar Parra’s third motion for summary judgment. The court carved out a liability damage clause from Piaffe Performance’s liability release, finding it unenforceable and void for public policy reasons.
It is the latest in the civil case alleging Parra’s gross negligence left horse trainer Trudy Miranda’s Hanoverian stallion, William PFF, permanently injured during a 2009 training evaluation.
Parra sought summary judgment based on Piaffe Performance’s liability release, which could have limited the value of the plaintiff’s stallion to $10,000, if upheld by the court. This portion of the release reads:
“agrees that the value of the Horse is limited to ten thousand dollars
($10,000). PIAFFE recommends that Student insure the Horse, at
Student’s expense, for bodily injury, surgery, mortality and all
other risk of loss for the value that Student assigns to the Horse,
which may be more than the $10,000 value agreed to for purposes
of this Agreement. The value of the Horse agreed to under this
Section 5 creates no liability or responsibility on the part of
PIAFFE and does not affect the Student’s assumption of all risk of
loss to the Horse and the Student’s indemnity, hold harmless and
release of liability set forth in Section 4 above.”
“Defendant had no concomitant exposure to liability of up to $10,000 if Plaintiff’s horse suffered an injury because Section 5 releases him from any liability. This sort of total release from liability is precisely the sort of limit on liability that our law abhors,” states Superior Court Judge Hany Mawla.
In June, the court denied Parra’s attempt to thwart Miranda from seeking punitive damages at trial. Pointing to the Equine Activities Statute, Judge Mawla said, “the Act does not immunize Defendant’s alleged conduct in this case from suit. The statute is clear that it applies to suits by operators or participants arising out of injuries to individuals not injuries suffered by the horse itself.”
The judge recognized in his Order that a horse, unlike a human, cannot voice their need to discontinue an activity so they don’t suffer an injury. Judge Mawla went as far as to quote Sigmund Freud who wrote “[t]he ego’s relation to the id might be compared with that of a rider to his horse. The horse supplies the locomotive energy, while the rider has the privilege of deciding the goal and guiding the powerful animal’s movement.”
Miranda filed suit in 2011 and alleges the injuries sustained by her then four-year-old stallion were a direct result of Parra’s gross negligence on two separate occasions. Once during Parra’s training evaluation of the horse at his New Jersey stable and later when he attempted to lunge the horse a second time, after the initial incident. Court documents state the second time was “in direct contravention of instructions from the treating veterinarian.”
The case is scheduled for an October 6, 2014 trial.