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Ask H&H: claiming compensation for negligence

Q: IN January, I sent my show jumper to a professional rider to compete and bring on. The horse was returned three months later deemed “unsuitable for the discipline she was aimed at”.

When the horse came home she wasn’t happy in herself. We had her checked by a physio who suggested she had tripped and fallen on her side, badly bruising her shoulder. We got a second opinion and the same problem was diagnosed. The professional rider is denying all knowledge of an accident.

I have since spoken to the rider’s groom, who worked on the yard at the time but has since left, and she informed me the horse wasn’t taken to competitions, for which I was being charged.

Is there any way of proving the professional rider was negligent and caused injury to my horse? And can I claim back the money I paid to this professional rider to compete my horse when, by all accounts, the horse never left the yard? I am worried it will be his word against mine.
SM, South Yorkshire

ACCORDING to Richard Brooks, partner in the racing and bloodstock team at Withy King solicitors, you must consider the law and the evidence.

“The writer is correct that a case is hopeless without evidence, but this case is not as forlorn as they may think,” he said.

“There is the evidence of the two experts who examined the horse. No judge is going to take it from a lawyer that an injury has occurred — it will take a report from an expert to establish that there’s been an injury; that the current ‘unsuitability’ is connected to the injury and, finally, how and when it could have happened.”

One or both experts need to confirm they are happy to express their opinion to a judge. But there is also the witness who states that the horse was not competed.

“No doubt other evidence will emerge when enquiries are made, such as the horse’s veterinary invoices and competition entries or results,” suggested Richard.

“As to the law, there is obviously a contract and the situation may be regarded as a ‘bailment’. This arises when someone leaves goods for service, for example dry-cleaning or a car having its annual service.

“The professional must take care of the horse and it has to be established that the problems arose because of a failure to do so. In a bailment situation the onus is on the bailee — the professional in this case — to prove this. If the case is proven, the remedy is repayment of fees and compensation for loss of value and vets fees.

“I do not underestimate the problems that the writer has in succeeding, but there are grounds for some optimism,” said Richard.

“The professional will no doubt argue that the best care in the world cannot stop accidents happening. But the denial of knowledge may affect an assessment of their credibility.”

Information

Withy King Tel: 01672 514781 www.withyking.co.uk

This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (10 July, ’08)

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