The Third Department, in a comprehensive decision which should be consulted on the issues of governmental immunity, assumption of the risk and constructive notice, reversing Supreme Court, determined the New York State Gaming Commission was exercising a proprietary, not governmental, function when its employees inspected a harness-racing horse’s (Mister Miami’s) equipment and failed to scratch the horse, which exhibited indications he was “lame,” from the upcoming race. Claimant was injured when, during the race, claimant’s horse collided with Mister Miami after Mister Miami fell. Because the state’s alleged negligence stemmed from a proprietary function, ordinary negligence principles applied and there was no need to show a special relationship between claimant and the state, and the governmental immunity affirmative defense was not available. There were questions of fact whether the assumption-of-the-risk doctrine applied because the state may have acted to unreasonably increase the risk. As for notice, the regulations requiring the state to inspect the horses and equipment allowed the state’s constructive notice of the dangerous condition to be imputed:
… [T]he duties of [the state’s] officials are fundamentally intertwined with the operation of each and every race and, while such tasks may tangentially relate to the overall function of ensuring fair and honest gambling in this state, they are more specifically directed to the goal of ensuring the safety of the participants in those races … . … [I]t is apparent that at least part of the Commission’s role in harness racing is to work hand in hand with the private racing industry to further the state’s goal of “deriv[ing] a reasonable revenue for the support of government” … . * * *
… [W]e find that there are triable issues as to whether Commission officials adequately performed their duties and whether their alleged failures unreasonably increased the risk beyond a level generally inherent in harness track racing … . …
Because [the inspection] duties were imposed upon the Commission officials by regulation, constructive notice of Mister Miami’s health and equipment issues that would have been observable during those inspections may be imputed … . Bouchard v State of New York, 2022 NY Slip Op 04202, Third Dept 6-30-22
Practice Point: This opinion has valuable discussions of; (1) how to analyze whether a government is exercising a governmental function (to which the “special relationship” and “governmental immunity” doctrines apply) or a proprietary function (to which ordinary negligence principles apply); (2) the assumption of the risk doctrine; and (3) the imputation of constructive notice when there are regulations mandating inspections which allegedly would have revealed the dangerous condition. Here claimant was injured during a harness race when his horse collided with a fallen horse. The complaint alleged the NYS Gaming Commission did not inspect the fallen horse and the fallen horse’s equipment prior to the race as required by the relevant regulations.