The High Court has ruled that an eighteen-year-old woman, who broke her back in a horse riding accident, is entitled to compensation for a fall from a horse.
On 22nd September 2012, Ashleigh Harris (then aged 14 years) was encouraged to ride a thoroughbred racehorse by Rachel Miller – the mother of her then boyfriend – at the Miller family home in Malthern near Chepstow.
Although Ashleigh had considerable experience riding ponies, she had never before ridden a racehorse in an open field. After trotting the racehorse for five minutes, the racehorse broke into an “uncontrollable canter” on a downhill descent.
The racehorse started throwing its head and bucking, and Ashleigh was thrown from the saddle. Despite wearing body armour, Ashleigh broke her back when she fell and is now permanently paralysed from the waist down.
As soon as she turned eighteen years of age, Ashleigh claimed compensation for a fall from a horse against Miller on the grounds that there was a foreseeable risk of injury due to the racehorse being difficult to control.
Miller contested the allegations – claiming that she had sought permission from Ashleigh´s mother before allowing her to ride the racehorse. The case went to the High Court in London to be resolved, where it was heard by Judge Graham Wood QC.
At the hearing, Judge Wood found that Miller had made a serious error of judgement by encouraging Ashleigh to ride “a green, unresponsive and uneducated horse who, by her very nature, as a thoroughbred racehorse, would be strong, potentially wilful and difficult to control.”
Finding in Ashleigh´s favour, the judge added: “By positively encouraging Ashleigh to ride the horse and condoning, if not specifically instructing, a trot in an open field for the first time, Mrs Miller was exposing her to a risk of injury from a horse which could not be controlled in other than the most benign of conditions.”
Judge Wood adjourned the hearing for reports to be conducted into Ashleigh´s future needs. The outcome of the reports will determine how much compensation for a fall from a horse she is entitled to. Ashleigh´s lawyers believe that, due to the cost of Ashleigh´s ongoing specialist care, the final settlement of compensation for a fall from a horse could be several million pounds.