A teenager who was paralysed in a riding accident is to receive more than £3million compensation.
A High Court judge has ruled in Ashleigh Harris’s favour, in a case she brought against her ex-boyfriend’s mother Rachel Miller.
Ashleigh was 14 when she broke her back in a fall from Polly Perks, a thoroughbred owned by Mrs Miller, in a field near the Millers’ home near Chepstow in September 2012. She now has no function in her legs.
Judge Graham Wood QC said Mrs Miller, mother of Ashleigh’s then boyfriend Kerian, had “encouraged” the teenager to ride the “strong and willful thoroughbred”, and exposed her to risk of injury.
He said Ashleigh first rode the horse on 15 September 2012, when Mrs Miller went to view her in Abergavenny. The teenager was a “competent novice” who had wide experience of riding ponies, including her own, but had not ridden a horse before.
Mrs Miller, who bought Polly Perks for £550, had “limited knowledge” of Ashleigh’s riding experience, although she knew the teenager had ridden more than she had.
The judge ruled Polly was a “green, unresponsive and uneducated horse who, by her very nature, as a thoroughbred racehorse, would be strong, potentially wilful and difficult to control”.
‘Error of judgment’
He added that Mrs Miller had made a “serious error of judgment” in buying the “unsuitable horse” in the early stages of her riding.
“Being committed to this type of horse, and acquiring Polly very cheaply, she has convinced herself there were no problems with the horse, when in fact there were, and it should have been known by her as difficult to manage, even for a competent novice rider,” he added.
On the day of the accident, 22 September 2012, Ashleigh went to the field with Mrs Miller, Keiran and his sister Sammy.
Ashleigh walked and trotted Polly, and the judge accepted her account that the mare broke into an “uncontrollable canter”, and Ashleigh was “suddenly and unexpectedly unseated”.
Mrs Miller’s account was “implausible” and she was an “unreliable witness”, the judge added.
He rejected Keiran’s evidence, that he had seen the teenager ride bareback and that she had “waxed lyrical” about riding Polly after the trip to Abergavenny.
“By positively encouraging Ashleigh to ride the horse, and condoning, if not specifically instructing, a trot in an open field for the first time, Mrs Miller was exposing her to a risk of injury from a horse which could not be controlled in other than the most benign of conditions,” the judge said.
“In my judgment, it was reasonably forseeable that the horse would be strong and difficult to control, and in certain conditions likely to unseat a rider who was not used to managing a horse bred to race and trained to gallop.”
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The judge said Mrs Miller’s insurance was only for a limited amount, and she faces “dire financial consequences” as a result of his ruling.
The final amount of compensation has yet to be assessed but her lawyers say several million pounds will be needed for a lifetime’s care.
Mrs Miller will also have to pay legal costs, which are likely to be another six-figure sum.