This issue came before the Georgia Court of Appeals. See Doxey v. Crissey, et al, A20A0443 (June 26, 2020). For those of you who do not know (the author included), a bridle path is “a trail for horseback riding.” The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th ed. (2020). See also Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2020) (bridle path is “a trail suitable for horseback riding”).
This case involved the enforceability of an easement originally intended as a bridle path, which the owner of the easement wanted to convert to a walking path. The case highlights two important principles related to real estate easements:
(1) To interpret the scope of an easement, the rules of contract construction apply; this is a question of law for the court. The cardinal rule of construction is to ascertain the parties’ intent. Here, the Court of Appeals found that the term “bridle path” has only one meaning, which is a trail for horseback riding. Thus, per the terms of the easement, the only allowed use under the easement was to ride a horse.
(2) As is typical in the law, there is an exception to the above rule. This occurs when use of the easement changes over time, so long as the change is not so substantial as to cause unreasonable damage to the servient estate or unreasonably interfere with its enjoyment. The servient estate is the property that granted or give the easement. This rule applies even without the consent of the servient estate. So, if the easement became a walking trail over time, and the change did not harm the party who granted the easement, then the easement converts to a walking path.
If you have any questions regarding an easement, please call us at 404-382-9991.