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Connecticut: Contract? What contract?

Williams and Mona Raymond ran a horse farm in Connecticut. Before offering a horseback riding lesson to Jessica Reardon, they had her sign paperwork, where she represented that she was an experienced rider, that she had ridden horses frequently, and that she would not turn around and sue the Raymonds for negligence. So assured, the Raymonds agreed to give Reardon a lesson; Reardon was thrown from a bucking horse; Reardon went ahead and sued. The Connecticut Supreme Court held that the waiver was "unconscionable," and, while Jessica Reardon is perhaps better off because she'll get to try to persuade a jury that it was the Raymonds' fault that she fell off a horse, the rest of Connecticut consumers are now considerably worse off. Vendors of goods and services can no longer offer Connecticut customers goods and services that they could only afford to offer with the promise that the customers would not sue. Other Connecticut vendors will raise their prices to account for the risk that their contracts, too, will be called "unconscionable" after the fact because of this sort of ex post instead of ex ante analysis.

Nor could the Raymonds defend themselves by pointing out that the experienced Reardon had assumed the risk. The court's reasoning, as reported by the Insurance Journal, is appalling:

The court acknowledged that there are certain risks that are inherent to horseback riding as a recreational activity, one of which may be that horses move unexpectedly. However this "does not change the fact that an operator's negligence may contribute greatly to that risk." For example, the defendants may have negligently paired the plaintiff with an inappropriate horse given the length of time since she last had ridden or negligently paired the plaintiff with an instructor who had not properly been trained on how to handle the horse in question. The court said both of these scenarios "present factual questions that, at trial, may reveal that the defendants' negligence, and not an inherent risk of the activity, was to blame for the plaintiff's injuries."

("No Horsing Around, Conn. High Court Tosses Liability Waiver", Insurance Journal, Oct. 26; Reardon v. Windswept Farms LLC). Such questions are expensive to determine, but the Raymonds did not charge their customers for the expected price of having to litigate; Reardon took advantage of these lower prices and then demanded the extra service anyway, and the court rewarded her disingenuousness. I wrote about this basic unfairness in a recent washingtonpost.com column.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.