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Girl’s Colorado Horse-bite Case Settles Before Trial

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Aspen, Colorado Horse-Bite CaseThe case of a now preteen Georgia girl whose left earlobe was bitten off by a horse near Aspen, Colorado, in 2006, has been settled the day before it was set to go to trial. The girl and her parents, Scott Birkholz and Tiffany Britt, had filed the lawsuit against Maroon Bells Lodge and Outfitters in 2008.

Aspen Daily News staff writer Chad Abraham writes:

As the case has proceeded through numerous delays, the girl, who was 6 at the time, has undergone multiple surgeries, including the removal of cartilage from her chest for use in the reconstruction of her ear, court documents show.

The girl, her sister and father were on vacation when they decided on Aug. 19, 2006, to go to Maroon Bells Lodge and Outfitters on Maroon Creek Road to inquire about an impromptu horseback ride.

The girl was standing in a line waiting to register and, along with other children, began petting several horses hitched to a rail after getting permission from an employee. But when the girl turned to speak with her father, Daisy (a 25-year-old horse) lunged at her, according to witnesses. The girl was then knocked into a pole as Daisy ripped off the majority of her lower left ear, according to a deposition from a plastic surgeon. An employee drove the family to Aspen Valley Hospital after the girl’s father picked up the lobe. The lawsuit said the initial surgery at that hospital was unsuccessful, and asked for $100,000 in damages.

According to Abraham’s article:

The father said that immediately after the incident a wrangler with the operation told him Daisy had bitten someone before, a charge MacEachen and other employees deny.

‘After the incident, defendant disposed of the horse, and has since stated that it cannot locate or produce any documentation concerning the horse’s acquisition, maintenance, care or post-incident disposition,’ the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Douglas Griess of Greenwood Village, wanted experts to examine the horse. But Daisy was sold at auction in Delta — apparently within a week or so of the incident — possibly to a man in the horse-slaughter industry.

In a November 11, 2009 deposition, Maroon Bells Lodge and Outfitters owner Dan MacEachen said, “We didn’t want to take a chance on Daisy biting anybody else.”

MacEachen’s attorney filed a motion in 2009 to have the case dismissed, questioning Maroon Bells Lodge and Outfitters’ liability under Colorado’s Equine Activities Act.

The Act, with certain exceptions, protects horse-related establishments like MacEachen’s from civil liability from injuries to “a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities,” according to Judge James Boyd’s ruling.

Overturf’s motion claims that the girl was engaged in such an activity because, since she and her family were seeking horseback rides, she was an “unmounted rider.” But Judge Boyd ruled that no rides were available on that day.

As Abraham writes:

‘Despite defendant’s arguments to the contrary, the plain meanings of the relevant terms do not include a child whose only activity is petting a horse,’ the judge’s ruling says. ‘That [she] and her family had hoped to become passengers on the date of the incident does not make them passengers on that date.’

The judge dismissed the family’s negligence claim, but upheld three other claims for relief. His ruling said that the father’s testimony that a wrangler had told him Daisy had bitten someone previously was a dispute that would have to be resolved at trial.

A confidential settlement was struck Sunday, the day before the trial was set to begin, with funds exchanging hands, court documents said. The trial was supposed to have been held in Pitkin County District Court.

Image by Bruce McKay~YSP, used under its Creative Commons license.


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