Appeal from judgment entered on a jury verdict in a diversity action in the District of Connecticut, Thomas F. Murphy, District Judge, awarding plaintiff $112,000 damages for personal injuries sustained as a result of her fall from a horse which slipped on a defective trail on property owned by appellants.
Moore and Timbers, Circuit Judges, and Jon O. Newman, District Judge.*fn* Moore, Circuit Judge dissenting.
Kathryn J. Pritchett, a Mississippi citizen, commenced this diversity action on June 18, 1969 to recover damages for personal injuries she sustained on July 4, 1968 while riding a horse on one of the trails maintained by a riding stable known as the B-Z Pony Ranch, Inc. in East Haven, Connecticut. The stable, which also owned the horse plaintiff was riding, was operated under various names by Robert J. Zacks and members of his family (the Zacks), all of whom were Connecticut citizens; were named as defendants; but are not appellants herein.*fn1 The Zacks leased the property on which the stable and trails were located from members of the Rosoff family (the Rosoffs), all of whom were citizens of Massachusetts, Minnesota or Connecticut; were named as defendants; and appear in the caption as appellants herein.
Upon the failure of the Zacks to appear to defend the action, a default judgment was entered against them. After a two day jury trial in the District of Connecticut before Thomas F. Murphy, District Judge, the case was submitted to the jury only against the Rosoffs as owners of the property on which the accident occurred. On June 6, 1975 the jury returned a verdict awarding plaintiff $112,000 damages against the Rosoffs. From the judgment entered on that verdict, the Rosoffs now appeal.*fn2
The essential questions on appeal are (1) whether there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could find that plaintiff sustained her injuries as a result of a defective riding trail; (2) whether there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could find that under Connecticut law the landowners were liable for defects on the premises which the lessees controlled; and (3) whether the district court erred in allowing plaintiff's counsel to question a representative of the lessees about their insurance obligations under their lease with the owners.
Appellants do not claim that the verdict was excessive.
In order to focus upon the asserted liability of the Rosoff defendants, it is necessary to back up a bit from the occurrence of the accident on July 4, 1968 and to summarize only those facts required for an understanding of our rulings on the questions raised.
B-Z Pony Ranch, Inc. occupied and used some 76 acres of land owned by the Rosoffs in East Haven. Between May 2, 1967 and April 30, 1968 Robert J. Zacks had a written lease with the Rosoffs for use of the property as a riding stable open to the public. After the lease expired on April 30, 1968, Zacks continued to occupy the property and to use it for a stable as before with the Rosoffs 'consent. Under Connecticut law, Zacks succeeded to a month-to-month tenancy upon expiration of the written lease.
It is undisputed that plaintiff was injured while riding on one of the trails at the B-Z Ranch on July 4, 1968 when her horse slipped and fell on top of plaintiff, crushing her right hip and leg. She was hospitalized for seven months, most of which she spent in traction. One of the results of her injuries is a 50% loss of function of her right leg which is one inch shorter than the left.
Plaintiff's essential claims of negligence were that her horse slipped and fell when the trail, softened by three weeks of steady rainfall, crumbled beneath the horse's foot; and that the trail on which the accident occurred was too narrow for riding.
There was evidence -- chiefly plaintiff's testimony -- from which the jury could have found substantially as follows. On the day of the accident she came to the B-Z Pony Ranch to go riding. She told Robert Zacks that she was a novice. He assigned to her one of his more gentle horses. She went out on the trail along with nine or ten other persons, all on horseback. They rode ...