Family of woman killed in horse-car collision can sue barn owner for nuisance
When your animals have been reported running loose thirty times in seven years, pretty soon you become a nuisance--or at least victims of your negligence have a right to seek a jury's agreement that your farm is a nuisance. Terri Sholberg died when her car struck a horse running loose from the Truman farm in Emmet County. Sholberg was traveling within the 55 mile per hour speed limit, apparently, and the investigating officer tesified that she did nothing wrong.
The horse had been gated in an enclosure where the gate was kept shut only with binder twine. For some reason, the deceased woman's attorneys sued the owners of the farm but not the brother in possession: perhaps he was uninsured. In any event, the judge dismissed the entire claim, holding that the owners of the farm owed no duty to the motorist. The Estate appealed, arguing several bases under which the farm owners' insurers should be liable for the death.
The Court of Appeals concluded that the Equine Activity Liability Act offers immunity to horse owners in many circumstances but imposes no duties upon them. It reversed the trial judge, however, with regard to an action for nuisance. Citing the lack of any active management by the owners of the property that would support a negligence action, the Court sent the case back to Emmet County for a trial on the family's nuisance theory alone. The Court pointed out that after so many reports of loose livestock, the owners of the farm had reason to know that their property was a hazard to motorists on Stutsmanville Road and therefore it was improper to have summarily dismissed the family's nuisance claim.