Judge denies first of its kind lawsuit for abused horse to sue owner

A Washington County judge in Oregon ruled that an abused horse can not be a plaintiff and therefore cannot sue his previous owner for the expensive and ongoing medical care needed since he was rescued in March 2017. Circuit Court Judge John Knowles issued his ruling on Tuesday:

“The court finds that a non-human animal such as Justice lacks the legal status or qualifications necessary for the  assertion of legal rights and duties in a court of law.”

Justice, the abused horse had been a party to the lawsuit filed earlier this year against his former owner, for the costs of his medical care including his pain and suffering. According to animal advocacy group, Animal Legal Defense Fund, this case was the first to allow animals the legal right to sue their owners in court for $100,000 in both economic damages and future care. The horse’s owner Gwendolyn Vercher was found guilty of first-degree animal neglect leaving Justice outside and not feeding him.

When rescued, Justice was 300 pounds underweight and  suffered from penile frostbite. Vercher repaid many of the horse’s medical expenses.

“Horses, like Justice, are intelligent animals with the capacity for rich emotional lives. Oregon law already recognizes Justice’s right to be free from cruelty – this lawsuit simply expands the remedies available when abusers violate animals’ ‘legal rights,’” explained Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells.

When Justice was rescued, the Quarterhorse and Appaloosa stallion had been starved and suffered from frostbite, lice and rain rot. Because of the extreme neglect, the horse has been permanently physically and psychologically scarred requiring specialized care for the rest of his life.

According to Oregon Live,  the court argued the case would open a “flood” of lawsuits filed by animals.

“Such a finding would likely lead to a flood of lawsuits whereby non-human animals could assert claims we now reserve just for humans and human creators such as business and other entities.”

Justice remains at Sound Equine Options, an Oregon non-profit horse rescue, and his medical needs remain a barrier for him finding a permanent home as well as the continuing costs of his care. The Oregon Supreme Court has recognized that animals should be considered individual “victims” in animal cruelty cases, however they are still classified as property.

Will the Animal Legal Defense Fund appeal? Surely the time for animals to have a voice in court is coming.

(Photo of abused horse Justice via ALDF)

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3 replies
  1. susispot says:

    I don’t think this idea will ever fly. Personally it sounded ridiculous to me from the get-go. I think the people or group that ends up caring for an abused animal should have the right to sue for costs. More realistic.

  2. Dalma Bugg says:

    In the case of any animal being permanently injured or emotionally scarred due to owner neglect, abuse, maltreatment or abandonment then the owner should definitely be liable for foreseeable expenses and ongoing care for the rest of the animal’s life, just as they should pay all the costs involved in the rescue of their abused animal from acquisition to moving into their furever home. The downside is, how does one cost such situation, especially emotional scarring. I believe there will need to be a test case by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, but they’ve hit a brick wall with this judge. Here’s hoping they have better success on appeal.


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