High Court: Rider thrown off horse awarded over €77k for personal injuries

High Court
High Court

A man who was thrown off a horse while he was working at a farm in Cork has been awarded €77,345 in the High Court.

Finding that the employer was liable for the accident due to his decision to park his tractor in a location which was likely to spook the horses when they rode past it, Mr Justice Bernard J. Barton also found that the rider was guilty of contributory negligence in deciding that he could handle the horse despite the obvious risk.


The defendant, Mr Terence O’Brien, is a racehorse trainer in Carrigtwohill, Co.Cork, where he owns a farm and trains horses. The plaintiff, Mr Niall Healy, was described as having ‘immense experience in riding, racing and breaking horses’, and worked for Mr O’Brien has his head lad.

Mr Healy brought the present proceedings to recover damages in respect of personal injuries and loss arising as a result of an accident which occurred in the course of his employment by Mr O’Brien on the 22nd October 2015, when he was thrown from a racehorse that he was exercising.

The Accident

Mr Healy was riding out a three-year-old filly called ‘Westy’, who was described as having a ‘nervous temperament’, being ‘flighty and could kick up’. Westy was one of three horses heading to the gallops from the yard at the time of the accident. Westy became spooked on approach to a tractor which Mr O’Brien had parked close to the gallops where she was to be exercised.

On approach to the tractor, Westy took flight, turned away and headed back in the direction of the stables despite Mr Healy’s ‘best efforts to regain control and dissuade her from this course’. Unfortunately, Westy ran into a live electrified fence line, receiving a shock – and thereafter dismounted Mr Healy. Mr Healy was ‘thrown clear over the fence line into an adjoining field’, landing ‘heavily on his head sustaining serious injuries, including fractures to two of his thoracic vertebrae, in the process’. 


Mr O’Brien hotly contested liability for the accident, and without prejudice to the outcome on liability, Mr O’Brien argued that the accident was caused by Mr Healy and that he was guilty of contributory negligence. 

The Court heard that Mr Healy was aware of Westy’s ‘skittish and flighty’ nature, having broken her in earlier that year. The Court also heard expert evidence on liability from Mr John Watson, who said that ‘parking the tractor with an elevated bucket so close to the gallops created a risk of spooking one or other of the horses in the lot as they attempted to pass by in the gallops’. It was also explained that one of the horses in front of Westy ‘shied away from the tractor and mounted the left bank of the gallops’, and that this was seen by Westy, sparking his reaction to take flight.

Accepting the expert evidence from Mr Watson, Mr Justice Barton was satisfied that ‘the tractor parked as it was constituted a threat and created a risk of spooking one or other of the horses in the lot as they approached or attempted to pass along the gallops’.

Satisfied that the positioning of the tractor was the causa causans of the accident, Mr Justice Barton considered submissions from Mr O’Brien that the riders that day had the option of turning left before approaching the position of the tractor, and avoiding the risk of spooking the horses. Mr O’Brien’s evidence was essentially that did not expect the riders to turn right and pass the tractor.

Mr Justice Barton said that the decision to park the tractor where Mr O’Brien did was entirely dependent on the behaviour of the riders when they became aware of its location, and that absent an instruction to turn left, a ‘manifest safety risk’ arose. It followed that parking the tractor close to the fence of the gallops with its front loader in an elevated position created a reasonably foreseeable danger and the likelihood of an accident occurring. 

Mr Justice Barton said that he was ‘fortified in reaching this conclusion by the probable outcome had the tractor been positioned in its usual position…approximately 5 meters away from the gallops entrance, a sufficient distance to permit the passage of riders and horses without any reasonably foreseeable risk of mishap’. Mr Justice Barton said that there was no suggestion that the usual position of the tractor had caused any problems for the horses, and consistent with this history it was reasonable to conclude that if the tractor had been in its usual position, the lot would have passed without incident.

In all the circumstances, Mr Justice Barton was satisfied that Mr O’Brien was in breach of his duty of care to Mr Healy, a duty which he owed at common law as well as under statute pursuant to the provisions of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts.

Considering contributory negligence, Mr Justice Barton said that Mr Healy’s experience should have put him in a position to assess the situation, and that it was likely that he made that assessment and took a conscious decision to turn right towards the tractor believing that he had the ability to deal with any issue which might arise. Finding Mr Healy guilty of contributory negligence, Mr Justice Barton apportioned fault as two thirds to Mr O’Brien and one third to Mr Healy.

Considering Mr Healy’s injuries, Mr Justice Barton accepted uncontroverted evidence that Mr Healy’s injuries caused him significant pain in his neck, back, right arm, right shoulder, and paraesthesia and loss of power in his right arm and hand. While surgery was successful and medical evidence was that a return to recreational horse-riding could not be ruled out, Mr Healy found it ‘very hard to accept’ that he could not return to his previous occupation which he so enjoyed.

Special damages for loss of earnings to the date at which Mr Healy returned to remunerated employment as a part-time barman, together with the other pecuniary losses agreed in the amount of €16,017.

General damages were calculated as €75,000 for pain and suffering to date, and €25,000 for pain and suffering into the future. Given the finding of contributory negligence, Mr Healy was awarded a total of €77,345.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020

Other judgments by Mr Justice Bernard Joseph Barton