(Overturned Mule Wagon on Private Property)Lyle v. Kunde Winery / Vineyards

SETTLEMENT: $162,000 Global Settlement against Kunde Winery & Vineyard, Keith Rathke and the Santa Rosa Saddle Club


In 1998, Mr. and Mrs. Lyle, an elderly, retired couple, decided to take a country wagon ride along with other seniors at the Kunde Winery & Vineyard. This event was sponsored by the Oakmont, Santa Rosa Saddle Club for which Mr. and Mrs. Lyle were members along with many of the other seniors who accompanied them. This ride was supposed to be an idyllic drive in the countryside. However, their wagon, which was pulled by mules rather than horses, driven, controlled and operated by Keith Rathke, overturned injuring many of the riders.

Mr. Lyle, Mrs. Lyle’s 90 year old husband, was degloved and suffered other injuries such as lacerations, bruises, cuts, and contusions and died about six months later from pneumonia, but in close proximity to the date of this accident which left his wife, Zora Lyle, a widow after more than thirty years of marriage. Mrs. Lyle, who was in her 80s, suffered lacerations, contusions, was hospitalized for over a week at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa.

Mrs. Zora Lyle, the surviving spouse, alleged in the lawsuit that Mr. Rathke was negligent if not reckless in his handling of the mules which caused the wagon to overturn. Also alleged, is that Mr. Rathke acting as a “common carrier” had a heightened duty of care for his passengers. It was also alleged that this higher duty and standard of care extended to both the sponsor of the event, Oakmont Saddle Club, and also to the land owner, Kunde Winery.

The Plaintiffs contended that a mule ride was an inherently dangerous activity and that Mr. Rathke, who was also of an advanced age, was not adequately trained and/or supervised to lead such an excursion particularly with mules that are more unreliable and more unsteady than horses.

The Saddle Club countered that they were not liable since this isolated incident was unforeseeable and that the injuries occurred not because of their sponsorship of the event, but because Mr. Rathke may have improperly handled/operated the mule wagon in a less than careful manner. Kunde Winery also exerted the same defense, a lack of foreseeability in that they have never had a similar incident in the past; therefore, there could be no notice and foreseeability of such an event ever occurring. Mr. Rathke’s attorney claimed that this incident was an unfortunate event if not an act of God. Mr. Rathke’s attorney alleged that Mr. Rathke acted with prudence and exerted due care in his handling and operation of the mule wagon but that it was the sloping steepness of the pathway that they traveled and/or an animal on the land that spooked the mules which caused the wagon to overturn.


The widow, Ms. Zora Lyle, sought general damages for the loss of the love, support, guidance, and comfort caused by the death of her beloved husband. Furthermore, Mrs. Lyle claimed her husband died as a result of the injuries that he sustained- but the plaintiffs couldn’t establish causation.

Mr. & Mrs. Lyle had medical bills in the range of $40,000 and wanted to recover out-of-pocket and other medical bills not covered by Medicare or other insurance policies.

Result: Unfortunately, the expert, Dr. Luxemborg, a geriatric specialist, was not able to make a connection or nexus between Mr. Lyle’s death and the accident, but the case globally settled for a total of $162,000 in 1998.