Creative Statutory Interpretation Put to Test

Ohio Court of Appeals Judge Mark Painter combined humor and common sense in Gibson v. Donahue, where the plaintiff was injured being thrown from her horse, which was spooked by two Irish Setters that the defendant allowed to run free in an area restricted to equestrian use.

Talk about creative lawyering. The defendant tried to escape liability by relying on an Ohio statute intended to provide tort immunity for riding stable owners and horse show operators for injuries resulting from the inherent risks of equine activity (a statute Painter said “is noteworthy mainly for using the word ‘farrier’ ten times”).

Judge Painter observed that the case was one of first impression, “probably because no one before has been audacious enough” to try to extend the statute to a situation like this one.

Defendant did have a slim statutory leg to stand on. The statute extends immunity to “an equine activity sponsor, equine activity participant, equine professional, veterinarian, farrier, or other person.” However, Judge Painter said that for defendant’s construction to prevail, the statute would have to be read as applying to “any other person in the whole world.” Construed as defendant argued, “[a] person who negligently crashes an airplane into the crowd at an equine event would thus be immune to liability.”

By the way, a farrier is a blacksmith. Remember that if you’re a law student in Ohio. It might be on the bar exam.

Gibson v. Donahue, 772 N.E. 2d 646, 648, 650 (Ohio Ct. App. 2002).

1 comment to Creative Statutory Interpretation Put to Test

  • Elizabeth Fox

    A farrier is not a blacksmith. A blacksmith creates or repairs metal objects using a forge and anvil. A farrier cares for a horse’s (or other hooved animal) hooves, including trimming and shoeing.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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