On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Sussex County, Docket No. L-264-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Ostrer.
Plaintiff Alicia Stroman appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, Joan and Christopher Bell, dismissing Stroman's complaint seeking damages for injuries she incurred when she was thrown from a horse at the Bells' farm in Montague Township. The trial court determined that Stroman's claim was barred by the New Jersey Equine Activities Liability Act (Equine Act), N.J.S.A. 5:15-1 to -12, specifically, N.J.S.A. 5:15-5, which generally provides that the assumption of the risks inherent in equine sport serves as a bar to suit. The court found inapplicable the exceptions in N.J.S.A. 5:15-9 to the limitation of liability.
We disagree. The record evidence includes a written admission by Joan Bell that she was negligent in matching Stroman with the horse that threw her, based on what Bell*fn1 knew about Stroman's riding experience and skills. Granting plaintiff all reasonable favorable inferences, Bell's admission was enough to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether an exception to the limitation of liability applied.
We discern the following facts from the record, viewed in a light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995).
Stroman met Bell in September 2006 at the small parochial school that their children attended. During one of their several conversations in the parking lot, while waiting to ferry their children home, Bell revealed that she maintained horses. Stroman told Bell she enjoyed riding, and used to ride often, but had not ridden in a long time. Bell invited her to ride at her farm; Stroman accepted; and the two set a date for September 28, 2006.
Stroman arrived in the morning after dropping her older children off at school. She had her two-year-old daughter with her. Before riding, Stroman and Bell had something to eat and Stroman told Bell about her riding experience. Stroman rode every weekend between the ages of twelve and fourteen. She formed a riding club at college, and was offered, but did not accept, a job as a trail guide. Since her graduation from college in 1983, she did not ride again, except during her honeymoon.
Bell placed Stroman on a calm seventeen-year-old thoroughbred named Annie. Bell could recall no instance in which Annie threw a rider, but did recall one instance in which an inexperienced teenager fell because he ran the horse back to the barn, something Bell said a rider was not supposed to do.
Bell observed Stroman ride the horse around one of the paddocks. Bell asserted that Stroman demonstrated her ability to walk, trot and cantor the horse. Bell concluded that Stroman knew how to hold the reins, and to turn and stop the horse. Bell felt comfortable taking Stroman out for a ride.
Bell then mounted a four-and-a-half year old paint*fn2 named Nicodemus that was half Arabian, part Quarter horse and part Saddle horse. Bell had purchased the horse from her nephew, who had trained the horse to participate in "Indian Wars Reenactments." Bell said her nephew trained the horse "to respond quickly if he gave him a command, like hut, the horse would jump forward and gallop." Bell said she could not replicate that.*fn3
She admitted her son had once fallen off the horse and injured his wrist. Bell was unsure if the horse bucked when her son fell. When the horse was two years old, her two daughters had also ...