Lian v. Hanson et al.



     In this case, Lian v. Hanson, et al., Court File No: 71-C3-04-000669, Plaintiff and her friend co-Defendant Masica entered Defendant Hanson's fenced pasture to "feed and play" with his two horses in his absence.  One of the horses kicked Plaintiff in the face causing significant injuries, and Plaintiff sued Hanson and Masica claiming that they were responsible for this accident.  Plaintiff argued that the horse possessed a dangerous propensity giving rise to a duty on behalf of Defendant Hanson.  Plaintiff conceded that there was no evidence that the horse had ever kicked, or otherwise injured, anyone before the accident and the affidavit of Defendant Hanson's veterinarian that the horse possessed no dangerous propensities stood uncontested.  When there is no evidence demonstrating that an animal possesses a "natural inclination to be dangerous" based on past incidents, no duty arises as a mater of law.  [FN 1]  Macho v. Mahowald, 374 N.W.2d 312, 315 (Minn. Ct. App. 1985) rev. denied (Minn. Nov. 4, 1985) (noting that there must exist at least "one previous incident to take the case to the jury"); Clark v. Brings, 284 Minn. 73, 82, 169 N.W.2d 407, 412-3 (finding no liability where animal "was provoked and excited by play when it inflicted first injury, and the authorities universally hold that such attack is no evidence of viciousness in the animal) (citations omitted); Boitz v. Preblich, 405 N.W.2d 907, 911 (Minn. Ct. App. 1987) (finding "mere fact that here a dog has a tendency to run does not constitute a 'dangerous' propensity"); see also Vigue v. Noyes, 550 P.2d 234 (Ariz. 1976) (finding that horse's past actions including kicking stall, eating well, stopping suddenly while ridden, and acting 'funny' on date of accident failed to establish viciousness).

     Defendant Hanson alleged that the two women had entered his property without his permission, thus trespassing, and that they knowingly and voluntarily assumed all risks commonly associated with being near horses thus relieving Defendant Hanson from any responsibility for this accident.  Defendant's veterinarian provided an affidavit stating that the horse did not possess any dangerous propensities and posed no greater danger beyond that of an average horse.

     While Defendant Masica claimed that Defendant Hanson gave her permission to enter his property in his absence to feed and groom his horses, she agreed that his horses were gentle based on her previous encounters with them.  Defendant Masica alleged that she was not responsible for Plaintiff's injuries as Plaintiff was an adult at the time of the accident who knowingly and voluntarily decided to accompany her onto Defendant Hanson's property to feed and groom his horses.  Defendant Masica further claimed that Plaintiff was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the accident, and Plaintiff told the emergency room physician that she had smoked a marijuana cigarette before entering Defendant Hanson's property.

     The court granted Defendant Hanson and Masica's respective summary judgment motions dismissing Plaintiff's claims against them with prejudice and on the merits.  While the court did not rule on whether the two women were trespassing at the time of the accident, it concluded that neither Defendant owed Plaintiff a duty of care under the circumstances because there was no evidence that the horses posed any danger beyond that of an average horse (i.e. the court found no evidence that the horses possessed any dangerous propensities giving rise to a duty of care under the circumstances).

[FN 1]:  Plaintiff also attempted to avail herself to Minnesota Statutes Section 314.46 which was misplaced given the undisputed fact that Defendant Hanson's paddock was enclosed by a fence and the horse's possible chance entrance onto Defendant Masica's property was expressly authorized by the Masica family.
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