Professional equestrian Terri Preiser, 53, purchased a new Choice Brands Equestrian bridle through the online auction site eBay. While she was riding with the bridle, the stitching on the cheekpiece—one of two straps that connect the bridle’s headstall to the bit rings—separated suddenly, causing the bit to come out of the horse’s mouth. Preiser made an emergency dismount and fell to the ground, landing on her right arm.
Preiser suffered a compound fracture to her right, dominant wrist. She underwent open reduction internal fixation, in which doctors implanted a plate and eight screws. The wound became infected, and Preiser required intravenous antibiotics for three months. She subsequently developed complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)—a chronic condition that causes intense pain, hypersensitivity, swelling, and electric-shock-like sensations to the affected area. The condition affects her entire right arm. She later underwent wrist replacement surgery in an effort to gain greater mobility. Because of the CRPS and a continued lack of mobility in her wrist and fingers, however, she will never return to competitive riding, and she has difficulty with simple tasks such as dressing, grooming, and cutting food.
Preiser sued Choice Brands Equestrian, alleging strict liability and breach of implied warranty. The plaintiff contended that one of the stitches on the cheekpiece that failed did not penetrate the leather as it was designed to, but passed outside of it. This “whip stitch” was most likely severed during the burnishing process when the bridle was manufactured, the plaintiff contended. The plaintiff’s expert testified that the interlocking stitching method used was inadequate, because if one of the stitches was cut, the two pieces of leather could separate easily. The expert testified that there were stronger stitching methods that could have been used.
The plaintiff claimed $1.1 million in future medical expenses and life-care costs, as well as damages for pain and suffering. She did not claim past medical expenses or lost earnings.
The defendant argued that the bridle the plaintiff offered into evidence as the subject bridle was not the same one that failed. The defense also argued that Preiser was comparatively negligent for dismounting after the bridle broke when she could have brought the horse to a stop instead. Finally, the defense contended that Preiser failed to adequately secure the cheekpiece to the bit by properly tightening the hook-stud billet on the cheek strap. The plaintiff’s experts conceded that the accident would not have occurred if the leather strap had been pulled taut against the stud hook.
The jury allocated fault at 60 percent to Preiser and 40 percent to Choice Brands and awarded $4.85 million. After allocation of fault, Choice Brands is responsible for $1.94 million.
The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial.
Citation: Preiser v. Choice Brands Equestrian, Inc., No. 2011 CA 003722 (Fla., Palm Beach Co. Cir. Apr. 26, 2013).
Plaintiff counsel: Roderick F. Coleman and Cory S. Carano, both of Boca Raton, Fla.
Plaintiff experts: Oren Masory, mechanical engineering, Boca Raton; Frank Grate, materials science, Hollywood, Fla.; Charles Glenn, tack, Louisville, Ky.; Sarah Russell, horses, Dee Valley, Utah; and John Cooney, pain management, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Defense experts: Jon Rust, textile chemistry, Raleigh, N.C.; James Lala, horses, Wellington, Fla.; Matthew Dettman, civil engineering, Bowling Green, Ky.; and Mark Goldstein, neurology, Atlantis, Fla.