Multi-Million Dollar Claims Filed Against Lewis County for Injuries Caused by Runaway Horse at Fairgrounds

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Three individuals have filed tort claims with the Lewis County Risk Management Department each seeking between $2.5 million and $5 million for damages sustained on Aug. 19 when a runaway horse and carriage injured several individuals at the Southwest Washington Fair.

The tort claims were filed separately on Sept. 28 on behalf of three members of the Morgan family.

The documents show that John Morgan, who goes by the name Jake, and his 4-year-old daughter, Helen, were injured in the incident, as were three other people who suffered less substantial injuries. Morgan, his daughter and his wife, Emily, have all filed tort claims seeking compensation for the injuries they sustained.

John Justice, with Olympia law firm Law, Lyman, Daniel, Kamerrer and Bogdanovich — the lawyer representing the county — said each person separately is claiming their individual damages at an amount between $2.5 and $5 million. 

According to the claims, John suffered a severe brain injury and multiple fractures, contusions and other injuries. He has undergone several surgeries, and further surgeries are likely, stated the claim.

“The extent of his brain injury is unknown at this time,” states the claim. “John is out of work for an unknown period of time and may not be able to return to work in the same capacity, if at all.”

Helen, the 4-year-old, suffered injuries to her head, face and left arm, including five facial fractures under her eyes. According to the claim, she has permanent facial scarring, and it is unknown if surgery will be required.

The Morgans were transported to Providence Centralia Hospital and later taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

As for Emily Morgan, the wife and mother of the two injured, the claim states “she has suffered and continues to suffer from loss of consortium due to the severe injuries to her loved ones.” Emily has missed work to care for her family, and it is unknown when she will be able to return to work.

 

According to the incident report from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Detective Jeffrey Humphrey, with the Sheriff’s Office, stated he was working at the Southwest Washington Fair on Aug. 19 around 2:35 p.m. when he heard a horse “trotting fast” and observed the animal run to the north and then down the midway.

In the incident report, he stated the horse appeared to have been spooked.

Former Chief Deputy Stacy Brown also witnessed the incident and reported a similar story.

“I observed the horse get spooked and jump, causing the carriage to rock back and forth behind it, which seemed to spook it even more,” she said in the incident report, adding the horse then hit a large raised flower bed, which seemed to have startled it more. “At that point, the horse took off running north down the midway into a very crowded area of people. The carriage was careening behind the horse out of control.”

Brown said the horse plowed through the crowd, and she said she observed several injured individuals, including “a small female child who was not moving after being struck.” Brown noted “a lot of blood coming from her head,” and said paramedics immediately began tending to her.

Located near the incident, both American Medical Response and Riverside Fire Authority began helping the injured individuals.

Both sheriff officials said the horse was contained near the end of the midway on the north end.

It was unclipped from the carriage and taken to a stall.

Brown said a conversation with the owner of the horse, Carrie Swearingen, of Classic Carriages, indicated a forklift drove by the animal, frightening it. The owner said she was unable to get control of the horse and was not able to stop it before it took off.

“It should be noted that I observed a county forklift operating throughout the day, carrying gates, etc., through the area but I do not specifically recall seeing it next to the horse when the horse became spooked,” Brown wrote. “That isn’t to say it did not drive through the area but I recall my attention being on the horse and carriage, once the horse became spooked.”

Humphrey responded to the hospital to check on the individuals injured.

John Morgan was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center, while Helen received a CT scan for her head injuries before also being transported to Harborview.

The incident report stated Andrew Mars and Jennifer Adkinson were also injured by the horse.

Mars had scratches and road rash on both arms and the right side of his back, as well as a laceration on his right arm near his elbow and scratches on both knees.

Adkinson suffered bruising and a possible broken right ankle.

During a conversation with Adkinson, Humphrey said she stated she did not see the horse and carriage coming her way until the last minute.

“At that time she had pushed one of her small sons out of the way and was struck by what she believed to be the carriage that the horse was running with, on her right leg,” Humphrey said.

Both were transported to Providence Centralia Hospital.

The owner of the horse, Swearingen, was also injured when she attempted to stop her horse and carriage. She reported her leg hurt, but declined aid.

She had an insurance card for the horse and carriage.

Justice, the county’s attorney, said under statute, the Morgans cannot file suit for 65 days after the submission of the tort claim. The plan is to turn the claims over to the insurance company of Classic Carriages for handling.

“How they respond or handle it, I’m not sure, but that’s the plan at this point,” Justice said.

The tort claims state Lewis County’s liability is under investigation.

“It is believed that Lewis County may have contributed to the accident by not installing proper safety measures,” states the claims.

Paulette Young, Lewis County risk and safety administrator, told The Chronicle she was unable to comment on pending litigation.

A call to attorney Lincoln Beauregard, of Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma, who represents the Morgans, was also not immediately returned.

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