EQUINE ACTIVITY IMMUNITY ACT
After 16 Years, the PEC's Equine Liability Bill Becomes Law!
Governor Rendell signed SB 618, the Equine Activities Liability Act proposed and supported by the Pennsylvania Equine Council, into law on December 23, 2005. It took effect February 23, 2006.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Mike Waugh and 17 others at the behest of the Pennsylvania Equine Council, was passed 48-0 by the Senate on December 5, 2005 and 195-1 by the House on December 14, 2005. Senator Waugh and Representative Fred McIllhattan, a longtime friend of the PEC, pulled members out of their offices and went to extraordinary lengths to ensure a "yes" vote on this piece of legislation, so critical to Pennsylvania's horse industry. Pennsylvania is the 45th state to adopt an Equine Activities Liability Act.
The bill comes after 16 years of trying to get an EALA passed. The PEC thanks Senator Waugh, Rep. McIllhattan and Representative Maitland, who sponsored bills for many years, along with Representative Tim Solobay of the House Ag Committee and Representative Pete Daley, minority chair of the Ag Committee, for their extraordinary efforts on our behalf.
Pennsylvania Equine Council Legislative Committee chair Rob Hoffa, an equine attorney, and the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, which has long opposed passage of an Equine Activity Liability Act (EALA), succeeded this fall in reaching a compromise. As a result, SB 618, which was introduced in April 2005, was amended and brought before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it was reported out of committee in November. Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R, Montgomery County), who chairs the committee, noted that discussion on such a bill had continued for a number of years. He thanked both parties for resolving their issues and achieving a compromise.
Senate Bill 618 limits civil liability for injury or death that occurs in connection with equine activity. The bill protects owners from lawsuits where no party is at fault for injury or damages. Passage of the bill should increase the number of carriers offering liability insurance to stable owners, and the competition should make insurance more affordable. Waugh said his legislation would ease the burden these costs place on horse and stable owners.
Senate Bill 618 is part of the Farmers First Agenda, a comprehensive package of legislation introduced in June to promote agriculture in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 618 was only one part of the Farmers First agenda that would benefit the state's equine industry. House Bill 619, legislation that would expand the state's farmland preservation program to include commercial equine activity, was signed into law November 1, 2005.
Waugh thanked the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and the Pennsylvania Equine Council for their assistance in drafting the compromise language in Senate Bill 618, and for their perseverance on the issue.
Assumption of Risk
The bill addresses individuals, businesses and groups that sponsor, organize, conduct or provide the facilities for equine activity. It uses "assumption of risk," a legal doctrine that a plaintiff is not entitled to compensation if, knowing of a dangerous condition, he voluntarily exposed himself to the risk that resulted in injury. A defense raised in personal injury lawsuits, it asserts that the plaintiff knew that a particular activity was dangerous and thus bears all responsibility for any injury that resulted.
The bill specifies that stables must conspicuously post signs in two or more locations that read, "You assume the risk of equine activities pursuant to Pennsylvania law." Stables that do not post the sign as required would not be covered. Nor are stables or individuals who are negligent.
Beginning in February, the non-profit Pennsylvania Equine Council began offering the signs as a service to members.
EALAs do not stop lawsuits, but they discourage frivolous lawsuits and make it easier to dispose of actions early in the legal process, reducing the expense and the stress for those who are sued. In the 44 states that have an EALA on the books, lawsuits are often dismissed on the strength of the state's EALA, and those decisions are often upheld in the appeals process.