In Brinkman v Marshall Field VI, the Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed a lower court ruling granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment. In Brinkman, plaintiff was allegedly injured while grooming a stallion in the barn at Hidden Brook Farm. She claimed that while she was grooming, three horses, who had escaped from their paddocks, galloped unaccompanied into the barn, startling the stallion who side-stepped and pinned her against the wall. She commenced an action based on common-law negligence against the farm.
The Court found that the farm established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law because the stallion and escaped horses were domesticated animals and plaintiff failed to allege that any of them had vicious propensities. New York does not recognize a common-law negligence cause of action to recover damages for injuries caused by domestic animals and an owner can only be held liable if they know or should have known of the animal’s vicious propensities.
The plaintiff tried to claim an exception set forth in Hastings v. Suave which dealt with a farm animal that strays from the place where it is kept onto a public road or other property. In carving out that exception, the Court of Appeals recognized the unique peril that arises from allowing farm animals to wander off a farm unsupervised and unconfined. People generally don’t expect a 1500lb cow or 400lb pig or unruly goat to wander freely into traffic or onto a neighbor’s yard mangling people and property. That exception is inapplicable here as the presence of horses in a barn is not unexpected.
Without the exception, plaintiff was unable to prevail on her claim. While the rule about domestic animals has been extended past dogs, it is extremely important that vicious propensity be pleaded and established, or the defendants may be able to obtain summary judgment. Thanks to Mehreen Hayat for her contribution to this post. Please contact Brian Gibbons by email or on Twitter (bgibbons@35) with any questions.