A New Jersey court rejected another attempt by dressage trainer Cesar Parra to unseat a lawsuit accusing him of gross negligence after he left an owner’s stallion permanently injured during a training evaluation.
Superior Court Judge Hany Mawla in Hunterdon County denied Parra’s second motion for summary judgment in the case brought by horse trainer Trudy Miranda after the June 2009 incident at Parra’s New Jersey stable.
Two hours after arriving at Piaffe Performance, court documents state:
“Defendant directed Plaintiff to remove her horse from the stall and walk him over to the cross-ties. Plaintiff states that, at this point, the horse was under the control of Piaffe Performance and prepared for training. While on the cross-ties Plaintiff states that the horse became excited. Plaintiff states that she gave the horse a slap on its girth area to distract it. After the horse repeated the behavior, an employee of Piaffe Performance named “American Anna” tapped the horse’s penis with a sweat scraper several times. At this point, Plaintiff objected and demanded the American Anna stop her behavior.
American Anna then departed and later returned with the Training Agreement and General Release. Plaintiff alleges that this is the first time she was presented with these documents. Plaintiff states that she informed American Anna that, due to the length of the documents and the fact that the horse was ready for training, she would not be able to read it all. American Anna advised Plaintiff that her signature on the documents was only a technicality and that if she did not sign the documents they could not work with her. Plaintiff alleges that if she had known what the treatment of the horse would be she never would have executed any portion of the agreements. Plaintiff asserts that while training the horse, Defendant improperly lunged the horse causing it to sustain serious injuries such that the horse can no longer be safely ridden, compete in equestrian competitions or be used as a stud.”
Miranda states she only printed her name on the document, but never signed the contract. The signature penned to paper, she contends, is not hers. Additionally, Miranda says she did not initial in all the required locations.
Parra also failed to sign the contract.
Both parties utilized the Equine Animals Activities Act to bolster their arguments, but the judge sided with the plaintiff saying “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.” Parra is not automatically shielded from liability by the Equine Activities Act because Miranda was not engaged in the equine activity, the court continued.
Parra’s attorneys unsuccessfully argued that the Exculpatory Agreement is enforceable and shields the dressage trainer from liability. The opinion states our law “does not favor exculpatory agreements because they encourage a lack of care.” The court found that the Exculpatory Agreement cannot be enforced in this dispute and added that a horse, unlike a human, cannot voice their need to discontinue an activity lest they suffer an injury.
Retired Superior Court Judge Peter Buchsbaum denied Parra’s initial attempt seeking summary judgment in March 2012, allowing Miranda to seek punitive damages in her case.
Miranda filed suit in 2011 and alleges the injuries sustained by her then four-year-old Hanoverian stallion, William PFF, were a direct result of Parra’s gross negligence on two separate occasions. Once during Parra’s evaluation of the horse on the lunge and when he attempted to lunge the horse a second time, after the initial incident, which was “in direct contravention of instructions from the treating veterinarian.”
A trial is expected in fall 2014.
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