Legal Articles

Thomas P. MurphyIowa’s “Domesticated Animal Activity” StatuteBY TOM MURPHY | HOPKINS & HUEBNER, P.C. | ADEL OFFICE

This article scratches the surface of a little known Iowa law that primarily impacts: farmers; people who work with animals; people who attend and participate in fairs, rodeos, and trail rides; veterinarians and their assistants; or people who buy and sell animals. It does not cover all aspects of the law it discusses.

Iowans who sponsor rodeos, 4-H events, fairs, or horse riding events may not be liable if someone participating in the event is injured. Iowa has a “Domesticated Animal Activity” statute. The statute provides that: “A person, including a . . . domesticated animal activity sponsor . . . is not liable for the damages, injury, or death suffered by a participant or spectator resulting from the inherent risks of a domesticated animal activity.”

The Iowa Code states that a “person” may be an individual, business and governmental entity, or a trust or estate.  A “domesticated animal activity sponsor” is “a person who owns, organizes, manages, or provides facilities for a domesticated animal activity, including, but not limited to” farms, training farms, stables, 4-H or other youth clubs, and other activities.

A “domesticated animal activity” includes: riding or driving domesticated animals; loading, hauling or transporting a domestic animal; providing veterinary care or helping a veterinarian; inspecting an animal for purchase; teaching people to ride or drive animals; riding in an animal drawn wagon; and several other activities. A “domesticated animal” is “an animal commonly referred to as a bovine, swine, sheep, goat, domesticated deer, llama, poultry, rabbit, horse, pony, mule, jenny, donkey, or hinny.”

At times, liability may be imposed. Examples include incidents where the risk of injury was known or recklessly ignored, drugs or alcohol was involved, or someone could have taken other steps to prevent injury or death.

At events involving certain activities, waivers and signs may be required. It is important to understand the law, or seek advice from an attorney about it, if non-owners are going to be around one’s domesticated animals.

So, what does this mean in real life? In a case called Baker v. Shields the Iowa Supreme Court found that a farm employee, who was injured when a horse shattered the employee’s ankle, could not sue his employer for damages.  The employee was riding the horse to drive cattle when the horse rolled and caused the injury. The court found the employer to be a “person” and that the employee was engaging in a domesticated animal activity. The employee could have brought a workers’ compensation case but was not allowed to sue the employer in district court. The result would probably have been the same if the employee had been a 4-H participant, a trail rider, or was showing a horse at a fair.

Again, this article does not address all aspects of the law. For example, it does not address when waivers and signs are necessary. However, if you are a person who owns domesticated animals, or sponsors events or activities in which they are used, you should know the law or seek an attorney’s advice.