A trip to the restroom shouldn’t turn into a contact sport, but sometimes bad things happen.

In March 2010, Thomas Duban and his wife, Martha, attended a horse sale at the Waverly Sale Barn in Waverly, Iowa. Martha said that she went along only to keep her husband company, had no intention of buying anything, and didn’t even have a bid card. What happened next, according to court documents, was this:

“At some point during the sale, Martha needed to use the restroom. The restrooms are located at the south end of the sale barn. In order to get to the restrooms from her seat at the north end of the arena, Martha had to walk through an egress in the northeast corner of the arena, exit the arena, and walk to the south end of the sale barn where the restrooms were located. When she was returning to her seat, two large Percheron draft horses were being led from the arena through the northeast egress to stalls outside the arena. While she was in the northeast egress area, the two horses shied, knocked Martha to the ground, and stepped on her, causing serious injuries.”

The Dubans sued the owner of the sales barn, claiming negligence and loss of companionship.

Spectator or Participant?

Iowa, like 45 other states, has an equine activity law that insulates sponsors of horse events (such as horse sales) from liability for personal injuries in manyÑbut not allÑsituations. These laws often make a distinction between a person who is a participant in the horse activity and a person who is a spectator, the idea being that someone actually taking part in the event is more likely to be aware