How many of you think that a horse is an animal that is naturally vicious or inclined to do mischief? While I may agree with the mischief part, I don’t think I agree with the naturally vicious part. The Connecticut Supreme Court apparently agrees that a horse is both.
In 2006, a little boy and his father were visiting a farm. The little boy was petting a horse named “Scuppy,” who subsequently reached his head through the fence and took a bite out of the little boy’s face, leaving a very large wound.
The family sued the farm, and the case made it all the way up to Connecticut’s highest court. According to the court, an owner or keeper of a domestic animal “has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the animal from causing injuries that are foreseeable because the animal belongs to a class of animals that is naturally inclined to cause such injuries.” Additionally, owners can be held liable for negligence if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent an animal from causing an injury, and an injury results.
The horse industry in the state is understandably worried that this court ruling will a) make horse insurance skyrocket and b) make it nearly impossible to own horses in the state due to astronomical insurance costs.
Fortunately, according to AP, Connecticut legislators are proposing legislation that would “reduce liability exposure for the owner or keeper of a horse, pony, donkey or mule in civil actions for personal injury damages caused by the animal.”
One of the most shocking parts of the court’s ruling is that even if the owner does not know that animal to be “abnormally dangerous” is still liable if he is negligent in failing to prevent the harm caused by the animal. So… you don’t know your animal is abnormally dangerous, but you must still prevent the harm that you don’t know he is going to do? Makes a ton of sense, CT.
I do not live in Connecticut, but I don’t live that far away. I’m from New Jersey where we have an equine liability statute, and everyone that steps foot on my barn’s property must sign a waiver. Regardless, I still have private horse owner’s insurance, and I have signs on all my horses’ doors stating that they can only be fed by authorized farm personnel or my permission. Does everyone listen to my signs? Nope. But I feel better knowing that I have them there so that no one can argue I didn’t take any steps to ensure nothing would happen to anyone that interacted with my guys, and if I don’t want someone, whether it be a child or adult, interacting with my horses, I am sure to say so.
I put the signs up shortly after I moved to my new barn because there were a lot of young visitors. We run several programs for young riders, and sometimes people stop by to check out the barn and end up making their way through the barns (my barn used to be a dairy farm back in the day, and it still sells its own eggs). My horse, who was 3 at the time I moved him, was still getting out of his mouthy stage, and I did not want to take the risk. My pony, who gets a wee bit too excited over treats, sometimes can’t hold himself together when he sees a carrot or apple, and he has almost gotten my fingers a few times.
Regardless, I don’t think that is a propensity of being ‘vicious.’ All young animals are mouthy.. even human babies are, sticking anything they can in their mouths. Does that mean human babies are vicious? Uh, no. And my pony isn’t meaning to almost bite anyone’s fingers.. if you have food, he obviously wants that food. Plain and simple.
The point is that horses are animals with their own thoughts and impulses – food being one of them. I do not agree with the ruling of the CT Supreme Court, but I also know that I personally have taken my own precautions to lessen my liability in the event of an issue.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or vote in our poll!