Opening the Door: Recognizing the Many Hats of Jockeys for Workers’ Compensation Coverage

This comment written by staff member, Erin. N. Malony, appears in KJEANRL Vol. 1 No. 1 and staff member, Tara Hester, wrote the abstract.

Workers compensation laws are governed almost entirely by state law, and only four states offer coverage to jockeys. In the case of Ochoa v. Department of Washington Labor and Industries, Ochoa, a jockey, was injured while being employed as an exercise rider. Workers’ Compensation Coverage is found in RCW § 51.12.010, which extends coverage to all employees within the jurisdiction of the act, but specifically exempts jockeys from coverage. If covered by the system, jockeys would be entitled to receive coverage of any medical expenses incurred as a result of an injury on the job, as well as compensation for time lost. Employers and Employees share the burden of workers compensation equally. Employers are required to deduct one half of the required contribution from the workers pay and the employer is responsible for the remaining half. Because the high rate of injury among jockeys, they are not eligible for these benefits should they become injured while on the job. However, Washington did not exclude all of those who work in the horse industry from workers’ compensation. Grooms, exercise riders, and pony riders are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Washington.

Ochoa v. Department of Washington Labor and Industries involves a licensed jockey, Ochoa, who was acting as an exercise rider. Ochoa was hired by trainer Steven Quionez to exercise a horse for one day. Ochoa was to exercise the horse at Playfair racetrack while races were taking place, although neither Ochoa nor the horse were involved in any races. During the exercise, the horse panicked, crushing Ochoa’s leg against a gate and leaving him unable to work. Ochoa filed a claim for workers’ compensation, and was denied. The case was appealed to the Court of Appeals, and then to the Washington Supreme Court, who granted Ochoa benefits. The Court’s ruling turned upon the nature of the activity that Ochoa was engaged in at the time of his injury. In Washington, jockeys and exercise riders were recognized as two separate occupations. The Court recognized that jockeys often engage in different types of employment depending on whether they are preparing to ride in a race or just keeping a horse in racing condition. Because jockeys also performed the function of exercise riders, they were eligible for workers’ compensation benefits when injured while acting as an exercise rider.

This case may have vast implications for those in the horse racing business. Because exercise riders can obtain workers compensation coverage, jockeys may be able to argue that because their situation is similar, they deserve the same protection. However, because of the high rate of injury for jockeys, implementing a workers’ compensation plan would be expensive for those in the horse racing business. Also, because jockeys may only be responsible for a horse for a period of one hour, developing a premium schedule may prove difficult. However, by allowing workers’ compensation coverage for exercise riders, the Ochoa decision has opened the door for jockeys around the country to eventually obtain workers compensation coverage.