In 2007, Donald Landfair, then 78 years old (which means he is now 85 or 86—justice does move slowly!) 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 R.C. 2305.321,Ohio’s equine immunity statute, which grants immunity from liability for harm sustained by equine-activity participants, including spectators. The trial court found that Smith was a spectator at an equine activity, and thus Landfair was entitled to immunity.
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.
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. Read the analysis of the merit decision here.
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.
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).
Appeals Court Ruling on Remaining Assignments of Error
On remand, addressing Smith’s three remaining assignments of error, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. What was reversed and sent back to the trial court was the issue of wantonness. The appeals court found there were genuine issues of material fact on the question of whether Landfair’s behavior was wanton, for which he would not have immunity for Smith’s injuries.
What Happened on Remand
On March 11, 2015, Summit County Common Pleas Judge Alison E. McCarty again granted summary judgment to Landfair, finding no genuine issue of material fact about whether Landfair’s behavior was wanton in any way. Wantonness has most recently been defined in the syllabus of Anderson v. Massillon, 2012-Ohio-5711 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. So, to show wantonness, a plaintiff must establish that (1) defendant exercised no care whatsoever (2) circumstances show a great probability that harm was likely to occur and (3) defendant was consciously aware of this. The trial court found that Smith failed on all three prongs.
Smith argued that Landfair exercised no care whatever and was wanton in trying to untrailer an untrained, unruly, newly shod horse by himself, and when a loud wagon was passing by. The court found that Annie’s behavior up to the time of the incident provided no indication of any trouble ahead, and that Smith provided no factual support that Landfair’s method of untrailering his horse was in any way willful or wanton. The court also found that while the evidence showed that Landfair’s actions could possibly have resulted in harm, it was nowhere near showing the requisite great probability of harm.
Landfair wins, as a matter of law. The time for appeal has now run, and this case is over.
Even if there were no immunity here, I think the plaintiff, despite her very good intentions, would have had trouble prevailing with a simple negligence case. Wantonness was a huge stretch.