What Happened on Remand: Smith v. Landfair. It’s Not Over Yet.

Case Background

In 2007, Donald Landfair, then 78 years old, boarded two of his horses, including Green Acre Annie (“Annie”) at Rochel Smith’s father’s stables. Rochel Smith was barn manager there.  In March of 2007, Landfair transported his horses by trailer to a blacksmith to be shod. As Landfair was unloading Annie from the trailer back at the stable, she became spooked by an Amish horse-drawn wagon.   Annie subsequently knocked Landfair to the ground. Smith saw all this and rushed over to help Landfair. Smith was kicked in the face by Annie and severely injured.

Smith sued Landfair for negligence in his handling of his horse. She alleged Landfair knew Annie was skittish and that he was physically unable to control the horse. The trial court granted summary judgment to Landfair on the basis of Ohio’s equine immunity statute, which grants immunity to those participating in equine activities. The Ninth District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holding that immunity did not apply because Smith was not an “equine activity participant” under the statute, because she was not a spectator. Spectator is not defined under the statute.

Pertinent Statutes

R.C. 2305.321(B)(1)

Establishes immunity from civil liability for certain equine activity sponsors and participants

R.C. 2305.321(A)(3)(a)

Defines equine activity participant as a person who engages in…riding, training, driving, or controlling an equine in any manner.

Merit Decision

The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the court of appeals.  In Smith v. Landfair, 2012-Ohio-5692, a 6-1 a decision written by Justice Lanzinger, the Court held that Landfair was immune from a tort lawsuit because Smith was a spectator at an equine activity. The case was remanded back to the court of appeals for consideration of Smith’s remaining assignments of error, which the appeals court had deemed moot on the basis of its ruling.

Case Syllabus

One who purposely places himself or herself in a location where equine activities are occurring and who sees such an activity is a “spectator” and hence an “equine activity participant” within the meaning of R.C. 2305.321(A)(3)(g).

What Happened on Remand

On remand, addressing Smith’s three remaining assignments of error, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.

First, the Court addressed Smith’s argument that Landfair failed to demonstrate control of his horse, Annie, as required for immunity to apply under R.C. 2305.321(A)(3)(a). Control is not defined in the statute, but based on its accepted common usage, the Court found that Landfair did maintain minimal control of Annie. The Court also rejected Smith’s argument that Landfair had immunity when he was leading Annie from the trailer, lost it when he fell, and regained it when he got back up and calmed his horse.  The court found there is no authority for this notion of “sporadic immunity.”

Second, the Court rejected Smith’s assertion that she could recover in this case under the common law rescue doctrine, which she argued supersedes statutory equine immunity. At common law a rescuer can recover from the person rescued if that person’s negligence causes injury to the rescuer, even if the rescuer put herself in harm’s way. The Court rejected this argument on the ground that a cause of action under the rescue doctrine would be a negligence action, and R.C. 2305.321(B)(1)  precludes an equine-activity participant from recovery under a negligence theory.  Since the Court found Smith was an equine-activity participant, she was precluded from recovering damages under a theory of negligence. Therefore, Smith’s status as a participant effectively eliminated any underlying claims pursuant to the rescue doctrine. The Court also found the equine immunity statute abrogates the common law rescue doctrine for equine activity participants.

Third, the Court addressed Smith’s argument that Landfair was not entitled to immunity under the statute because his conduct was wanton.  Under the statute, there is no immunity for conduct that is willful or wanton.

In 2012, in Anderson v. Massillon, 2012-Ohio-5711, in paragraph three of the syllabus, the Supreme Court of Ohio defined wanton misconduct as “the failure to exercise any care toward those to whom a duty of care is owed in circumstances in which there is great probability that harm will result.”

The appeals court found that in granting summary judgment, trial court improperly weighed the evidence on the question of wantonness in favor of Landfair instead of determining whether, when viewing the evidence most strongly in favor of Smith, there was a genuine issue of material fact on the wantonness issue, and sent the case back to the trial court to determine this properly.

Read the Court of Appeals decision here.

Student Contributor: Austin LiPuma

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