On this Saturday, the 140th Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs, the historic racetrack located in Louisville, Ky. Traditionally run on the first Saturday in May and arguably the most famous race in the world, an estimated 100,000 spectators will come watch a field of three-year-old horses thunder down the homestretch. Billions of dollars will be bet on that one race at Churchill Downs, at other racetracks, at other betting venues, and online. It’s a microcosm of a multi-billion dollar industry that spans the globe and includes a number of players and participants. Horse owners have a huge stake in the game. As do trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, and all the other people working around the barns. Then, of course, you have the racetrack owners and operators, the breeding facilities, and all the other supporting players – veterinarians, farriers, landscapers, saddle makers, etc. And in the middle of all of this are the horses themselves. They are high-strung young half-ton animals, with enough power to spring out of a starting gate and accelerate up to 35 miles per hour in a matter of seconds.
It’s a huge industry. The risks are also huge. Anytime you put risked money and people together in a big pot and then stir in unpredictable powerful animals, you are going to end up the occasional injury. And for lawyers, that means jury verdicts. So, this week, the attorney editors on the LexisNexis Jury Verdict team created an informal list of the top five cases in our database that capture some of the elements of risk associated with Thoroughbred racing. So before you put on your Derby Hat or pour yourself a mint julep to watch the races this weekend, take a few minutes and check out our choices below. If you are interested in submitting your own notable verdict, we’d love to include a report in our database. You can just send us an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
1) Sharon K. Beekman v. Greg D. Besinger and Bridlewood Farm, 2006 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 1342 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2006)
Greg Besinger owned Summer Note, a thoroughbred horse that was stabled and trained at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala. In December of 2000, Sharon Beekman was the assigned exercise rider for Summer Note. Following an exercise session, she was untacking the horse in his stall. There was some dispute over whether she struck the horse or just "brushed" his chest with a leather lead shank. But it was undisputed that Summer Note attacked her, biting her forearm, maliciously swinging her by her arm, and striking her with his front hooves. The horse then got on its knees on top of her and continued to repeatedly bite her about the head, neck, hands, and back. Beekman, who had ridden Summer Note for approximately four weeks prior to the attack, alleged Besinger knew or should have known his horse had vicious and dangerous propensities in that the horse had attacked and injured other individuals on several occasions on farms and racetracks throughout the United States prior to the attack on Beekman.
As a result of the attack, Beekman suffered numerous injuries including a compound fracture of left radius and ulna, requiring open reduction and internal fixation; central disc bulge at C5-C6 and C6-C7; debridement of bite wounds; debriding and closing of the finger and head wounds; closure of facial laceration; depression; anxiety; post-traumatic stress disorder with intrusive recollections and nightmares; and recurrence of major depressive disorder. She further alleged that she suffered a traumatic brain injury, although this was disputed by the defense.
Following a jury trial before Marion County Circuit Judge William T. Swigert, the Ocala jury awarded Beekman in damages, offset by 40% due to her own negligence. A total judgment for $ 616,485.15 was entered on June 9, 2006.
2) Susan P. Goodman v. J.K. Hartigan 2006 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 1190 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2006)
This was another case brought by an exercise rider who was injured by a racehorse in Ocala, FL. Here, however, the defendant was the owner of a dog, not the horse. Goodman brought the action against Hartigan, a manager of the Cashel Stud training facility who also lived there. Hartigan owned a Labrador retriever dog, which he allowed to roam the premises. The dog spooked the horse Goodman was riding, and she was thrown to the track, stomped and then kicked by the horse. Goodman sustained serious injuries, including two cervical fractures; a closed head injury with resulting epileptic seizure disorder; complex partial seizures; a resulting limp; and severe depression.
At the conclusion of a trial held by Marion Circuit Judge Robert P. Kaye, the jury reached a verdict in Goodman’s favor, finding no negligence on her part. Goodman recovered $1,434,753.00, including $600,000.00 in past and future pain and suffering.
3) Benito "Benny" Narvaez, et al. v. Tampa Bay Downs, 1992 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 4197 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 1992)
In February of 1990, jockey Benito Navarez was thrown from his horse during a race at Tampa Bay Downs. Benito suffered a severe spinal cord injury, which caused paralysis from the chest down. He and his family filed suit against the racetrack owner, claiming that the fall was caused by a mid-track pileup that occurred when another horse, Dance Appeal, fell in the turn for home. Benito maintained that Dance Appeal was unsound at the time the race went off, having returned to the track after suffering a fractured leg. He argued that the one veterinarian working that day had conducted an improper pre-race examination of the horse. Tampa Bay Downs countered, alleging Benito had assumed the risk of injury. Moreover, Tampa Bay Downs contended that even if the track had conducted what is considered to be a "proper" pre-race examination, the officials would not have been able to see what was wrong with the horse.
The jury disagreed with Tampa Bay Downs, awarding Benito and his family nearly $4.5 million. At the conclusion of the trial, Hillsborough Circuit Judge James D. Arnold denied Tampa Bay Downs’ motions for JNOV and a new trial.
4) Ron Charles and Clear Valley Stables v. Los Angeles Turf Club and All Temp Products, 2002 Mealey's CA Jury Verdicts & Settlements 163
In this slightly unusual twist on a product liability case, California racehorse owners recovered damages against a race park and gate manufacturer for career-ending injuries to their racehorse. Here, the racehorse owned by Ron Charles and Clear Valley Stables injured its legs in attempting to jump over the starting gate. This occurred after the horse had already become spooked and thrown the jockey. Ron Charles and Clear Valley Stables filed suit in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County against the Los Angeles Turf Club and All Temp Products, the manufacturer of the gate, on theories of strict liability, negligence and intentional and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage. Following a trial before Judge Michael J. Byrne in February of 2002, plaintiffs were awarded $330,000.00.
5) Warren B. Williamson, Robert Marshall and Michael Jarvis v. Helmuth Von Bluecher and Hector Prida, 1998 Mealey's CA Jury Verdicts & Settlements 216
In this California case, the race horse owners brought a malpractice suit against veterinarians for negligence in giving oxytetracycline injections. They alleged that the injections were unnecessary and were given in a negligent manner, that the horse's thrombosis was a result of those injections, and that the thrombosis permanently diminished the horse's fair market value. At the conclusion of the March, 1998 trial before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Loren Miller, plaintiffs were awarded a total of $600,000.00.
The veterinarians appealed, and the California Court of Appeals reversed. Williamson v. Prida, 75 Cal. App. 4th 1417 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1999). The appellate court directed the trial court to enter judgment in favor of Von Bluecher and Prida, finding no evidence that their actions were below the applicable standard of care within the veterinary profession.
And because no trip to the racetrack is complete without a pick based solely on the horse’s name, here is a sixth bonus case to add to the list. In this Florida case, exercise rider Ricardo Titus recovered $469,000.00 following a racetrack spill that left him with a number of injuries, including a fractured femur and a permanently shortened right leg. The spill occurred at the starting gate when assistant starter Raymond Kuwik pulled the nose of the horse Titus was on, causing the horse to stand still and shake its head. Titus warned Kuwik not to pull the shank a second time; however, Kuwik disputed that the warning occurred or that he had heard it. He pulled the shank a second time. This caused the horse to rear on two legs and ultimately fall backwards on top of Titus. And the horse’s name? . . . Well, it was "Reason to Shout."
Ricardo Titus v. Calder Race Track, et al. 2000 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 6320 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2000)
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