On Jan. 30, a California judge declared Kristi Nunnink not liable in the death of one of her riding students, Mia Eriksson. Eriksson’s parents sued Nunnink, an event rider and trainer, for wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress after their daughter suffered a fatal fall on cross-country while competing in the Galway Downs CCI** (Calif.) in November of 2006.
“[Judge Craig Reimer] threw [the case out after hearing the Erikssons’] half of the case; he didn’t even listen to our case,” said Nunnink, Auburn, Calif. “He said there just were no facts or evidence or proof.”
According to Nunnink, after the accident Karan and Stan Eriksson filed a claim with Nunnink’s insurance company, but the insurance company denied the claim. Then in May 2008, they sued Nunnink as well as the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the U.S. Eventing Association and the event organizers.
“This [experience] has truly been one of the most horrific things I’ve been through. It was terrible. Even though I don’t think the way [the Erikssons] went about handling the thing was therapeutic or healthy or right—still, I understand that the mother is going crazy from grief,” said Nunnink. “These are people I was really close to; watching them just sit up there on the stand and sob, it was horrible. It was just so sad.”
Nunnink said she was hurt emotionally by the circumstances and that her business also suffered. “[Karan Eriksson] publicized so much about it and made it public knowledge. Literally—people would start to ride with me, and they’re like, ‘That’s the girl who killed her student.’ And plus, it’s made me feel bad about myself, made me feel insecure about my ability to teach.
“When the judge made up his mind, it took a while to sink in, but all of a sudden, I just felt better about myself,” she continued. “I know it doesn’t make sense really, but just to hear the judge say there was no wrongdoing, there was nothing that I had done to make this more dangerous—it just felt really good.”
After rearranging her horses’ competition schedule to accommodate court dates—Monday’s hearing was originally supposed to take place on Nov. 4, 2011—Nunnink looks forward to showing three horses at the Galway Winter Horse Trials Feb. 3-5 and feels relieved that this is hopefully behind her.
“I don’t think it’s helpful right now, but I hope with this done that maybe her poor mother can move on and do some healing,” Nunnink said.
The Erikssons lost their other daughter, Shana in a riding accident at Fresno State University (Calif.) in 2003. They filed a $10 million claim for negligence and lack of supervision against the university, according to The Fresno Bee.
The Erikssons could not be reached for comment. They have 60 days to appeal this ruling.