UK Teen Sues Boyfriend's Mother After Falling from Horse and Becoming Paralyzed

Posted by Paige Cerulli

A UK teen has won a lawsuit against her boyfriend's mother after a riding accident, potentially changing life for British horse owners. 

UK teen Ashleigh Harris has won her lawsuit against her boyfriend's mother, and her victory may have implications for all British horse owners. Harris was riding Rachel Miller's horse when she was thrown and was paralyzed. A judge found in Harris' favor, awarding her the equivalent of 3.76 million dollars.

Harris was 14 when the accident happened. She had owned a pony for a year, but hadn't ridden before that. Harris and her boyfriend were at Miller's house to see Miller's new Thoroughbred, Polly Perks. Polly Perks was an ex-racehorse whom Miller, herself a new rider, had recently bought.

In fact, Harris had accompanied Miller on her trip to buy Polly Perks, and they had each ridden the mare while her previous owner walked close by. Polly Perks' previous owner was selling the horse because she was too temperamental for the point-to-point riding that he wanted to do.

A week after the trip, Harris and her boyfriend went to Miller's house. Harris wasn't planning on riding Polly Perks that day, but Miller was nervous about getting on the mare. Miller gave her protective vest to Harris. When Harris grew nervous after mounting the mare, Miller reportedly reassured her that she would "be fine."

Portrait of beautiful warmblood horse looking back

But the ride didn't go as planned. After asking Polly Perks to trot, the mare broke into an uncontrollable gallop and Harris fell over the mare's head. As she laid on the ground, Harris knew something was wrong, but it took 45 minutes for the paralysis to set in. Miller called Harris' mother, who arrived before the ambulance did.

Harris would undergo a five-hour operation to insert two metal rods into her back, stabilizing the injury. She was paralyzed from the waist down and spent the next six months in the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire.

When Harris did return home, she faced new challenges. Her relationship with her boyfriend came to an end. Her parents had to turn their home's living room into a bedroom, since Harris couldn't get up the stairs to her previous bedroom. She transferred schools, finding it hard to attend her old school with her new disability.

And then, of course, there was the lawsuit. Harris offered to settle out of court for the maximum amount that Miller's insurance would pay out. But, her offer wasn't accepted, setting the court proceedings into motion.

Luckily for Harris, Judge Graham Wood QC found in her favor. Judge Wood ruled that Miller had made an error of judgement in acquiring a horse which was unsuitable for her. The judge also found that there had been a breach of care when Miller allowed Harris to ride that unsuitable horse, and that breach of care resulted in Harris' injury.

Harris will face the challenges of being paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of her life. Her family states that she needs the money from the lawsuit to cover the expenses associated from the accident in the years to come. Unfortunately, Miller's insurance will only cover part of the payout; she is responsible for the rest. This could potentially leave her financially destitute.

The judge's findings in this case are eye-opening for British horse owners, as well as for horse owners worldwide. Often, horse owners rely on the limited coverage provided by homeowner's insurance, but that insurance offers limited payouts. Before allowing anyone to ride their horse, a horse owner should give serious thought to liability associated with the action and what could potentially go wrong. Had Miller better assessed the mare she owned and chosen not to let Harris ride, Harris' life would be very different right now.

All images: SWNS via DailyMail 

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UK Teen Sues Boyfriend's Mother After Falling from Horse and Becoming Paralyzed