VOLUME 1 - 2008-2009 - ISSUE 1

 1 Ky. J. Equine, Agric. & Nat. Resources L. 109 (2009).


Comment Written By: Erin N. Malony

No matter the industry, workers' compensation insurance coverage consistently generates controversy about everything from administrative policies to health care provider restrictions. Few issues, however, cause as many controversies as the failure to cover an entire occupation. Of those few occupations not covered, due to the danger of their sport, jockeys struggle significantly to obtain workers' compensation coverage. Workers' compensation insurance is a creature of statute and is governed almost entirely by state law; therefore, the highly mobile jockey population is potentially exposed to thirty-six different types of systems. Of the thirty-eight states that authorize horse racing, only four states offer coverage. 

Ochoa v. Department of Washington Labor and Industries illustrates the difficulties facing the horse racing industry in insuring its employees. Ochoa involved an appeal from a Washington Court of Appeals decision that denied benefits to a licensed jockey who was injured while employed as an exercise rider for a particular trainer. The Washington Supreme Court's holding concentrated on whether a jockey, like other types of employees, could act in a variety of capacities despite his sole licensure as a jockey. Reaching a decision on this question required the court to carefully interpret its own statute generally granting benefits and the specific exclusion of jockeys from the universal scheme of coverage. Although both the District Court and state Court of Appeals affirmed the Board's decision, the Washington State Supreme Court granted benefits to Ochoa." In holding that Ochoa was entitled to mandatory, as opposed to elective, coverage the Washington Supreme Court offered a nuanced view of the statute reflective of actual horse industry practice and opened a door to at least some coverage for jockeys, depending on their activity at the time of injury. 

In Section II of this Comment, focus is on the general statutory scheme in Washington, examining what kinds of benefits are available, and to whom. In addition, the administrative appeals process will be discussed. Section III reviews the background of this particular case and its history, while Section IV discusses the analysis of the state Supreme Court. Section V examines the implications of the court's holding on the inclusion of jockeys in state mandatory workers' compensation schemes.