April 24, 2006 – After almost four hours of discussion, including testimony from two public officials and an opinion given by the Legislature's legal counsel, it seemed as if senators were going to approve the Equine Activity Act of 2006 – a bill that seeks to limit the liability of promoters and track operators when a person engaged in "equine activity" is injured.
However, at the end of Monday's Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs Committee meeting, it was decided that the bill would be held in committee for further consideration.
Questions about the bill first arose at a previous committee meeting last month, where senators said they were concerned about who would ultimately be responsible when an injury occurs on the racetrack. Senators voted to hold the bill until the Legislature's legal counsel could render an opinion (See Tempers Flare in Equine Activity Act Debate").
The same questions also surfaced during Monday's meeting, as senators tried to make sure that residents who are injured on the racetracks can still file civil suits against the track's owner (the government) or the promoter (currently Housing, Parks and Recreation) and collect damages.
In response, both legal counsel and Norma Pickard-Samuel, chair of the St. Thomas-St. John Horseracing Commission, said that a resident could file a suit if he or she was injured due to an act of negligence committed by the owner or sponsor.
Pickard-Samuel gave as example a vendor who was injured after she came to the stables at the Clinton Phipps Racetrack on St. Thomas to re-shoe a horse; she is currently suing the track's former promoter.
While Pickard-Samuel added that such workers are presently covered under workman's compensation, she said that in such a case, a resident would be able to file a civil suit if negligence on the part of the promoter or owner could be proven.
Sen. Usie R. Richards, the bill's sponsor, explained that in other cases – such as if residents go into the stable, paddock or racetrack areas and are injured after they have been warned not to enter those areas – the promoter or owner would not be found liable.
While senators seemed to accept the explanation, they became confused when legal counsel identified a clause in the bill that states "this act does not apply to a horse race meeting that is regulated by the racing laws of the Virgin Islands."
Legal counsel said that because the clause is ambiguous, one could infer that that the provisions in the bill would not apply to injuries that occur at a horseracing event.
To remedy the situation, Richards said he would be introducing an amendment which deletes the clause and adds the word "racing" to the bill to address injuries which occur at the racetracks.
When asked, legal counsel said the amendment would take care of her concerns.
However, Sen. Louis P. Hill said that adding the amendment could also be problematic, and may change who would be held liable in certain situations – a point which was opposed by Richards and Sen. Celestino A. White Sr.
After further debate, senators subsequently voted to hold the bill in committee until legal counsel could fully review it and how certain provisions would be changed if the amendment were added.
Present at Monday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Hill, Ronald E. Russell, Richards and White.
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