Horse News

Conn Court: Are Horses Vicious?

Source: Multiple

Connecticut’s sizable horse industry has warned that classifying the animals as vicious could make owning a horse uninsurable

Owners of horses and other domestic animals must try to prevent their animals from causing foreseeable injuries, the state’s highest court ruled Wednesday in a decision that avoided the larger issue of whether horses are inherently vicious while siding with a family whose child was bitten by one.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 6-0 to uphold an Appellate Court decision that said a horse belongs to ‘‘a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious.’’ But four of the justices said that the question of whether an animal is naturally dangerous must be considered individually by lower courts.

The 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,’’ the court ruled. Owners may be held liable for negligence if they fail to take reasonable steps and an injury results, the justices said.

Connecticut’s sizable horse industry has warned that classifying the animals as vicious could make owning a horse uninsurable. Legislation is moving through the General Assembly proposing to 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.

The case began in 2006 when a boy tried to pet a horse named Scuppy at a Milford farm. The animal stuck his neck out from behind a fence and bit the child on his right cheek, ‘‘removing a large chunk of it,’’ according to court papers.

The Supreme Court said the owner or keeper of a domestic animal he does not know to be ‘‘abnormally dangerous’’ is liable if he is negligent in failing to prevent the harm. To conclude otherwise would undermine established legal principles of liability, the court said.

But to determine that that an injury caused by a domestic animal was foreseeable, Smith Jones Solicitors recommend the person who claims injury does not have to prove that the species as a whole has a natural tendency to inflict harm, ‘‘but only that the class of animals to which the specific animal belongs has such a tendency,’’ the justices said.

Hugh D. Hughes, a lawyer who represents Anthony Vendrella, the father of the youngster bitten by the horse, said the Supreme Court ‘‘did exactly what it needed to do.’’ The justices ordered the case back to a trial court, which ‘‘gives us an opportunity to prove our case,’’ he said.

Steven L. Seligman, the lawyer for the Astriab family that owns the farm, said he is disappointed.

‘‘The net effect is that the case that once was over for my client is now far from over,’’ he said.

Justices Peter Zarella and Christine Vertefeuille agreed with the majority that the owner or keeper of a domestic animal must prevent injuries that are foreseeable.

But horses ‘‘nip and bite,’’ and such issues related to their nature do not need to be considered by juries, they wrote. Instead, jurors should be asked to determine if the defendants acted to prevent Scuppy from causing foreseeable harm, Zarella and Vertefeuille said.

Attorney Joseph D. Foti, who also represents Vendrella, said he’s looking forward to taking the case back to trial court where he hopes it will move on a fast track after an eight-year appeals process.

‘‘This is nothing about a vicious horse,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s about a horse being a horse, the natural propensity of an animal being dangerous under certain circumstances.’’

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19 replies »

  1. We might as well live life in a bubble. Whatever happened to common sense? It seems to me that today so many people refuse to be responsible for their own actions. They are so disconnected with the natural world which, in the past, was the launching ground for things we all needed to learn. Technology does all of our thinking and teaches us nothing about our own innate abilities to think things through and “be” in the present. Without knowing the details I do agree that horse keepers do need to protect themselves by placing warnings in the best places to let people know they are not allowed to pet, feed, sit, climb or crawl through fences. Horses, as we all know here, are not vicious as a species. But we wouldn’t pet a strange dog when using common sense either. A horse leaning over a fence to get a treat or from just being curious doesn’t make it vicious. Yes, a nip from a 1,000 lb animal can do great damage. They are not even territorial as some dogs can be either. Do people respect or even watch for the signs? Do they respect private property? Are they in the “present” when they are on their cell phone and should be paying attention to their children and potential harm? From experience and hyper-vigilant practices, I know that a horse keeper can do everything possible short of neon and security guards to let passersby know they are not allowed to interact with the horses and some people will ignore the signs or look at us and say things like “We just wanted to take a picture.” or “We just wanted to pet them.” Or, ” Can we ride them?” The classic in my case was the group of bikers who actually opened my gate, walked through my pasture and mingled with my 7 horses. I was in awe at the audacity. And, wouldn’t you know, my horses were not “vicious”…how about that?


    • Jennifer – I agree with you 100% about many modern folks that are very disconnected to the real world. I see it when I walk downtown on my lunch hour, I noticed all age groups playing with their iphones, etc. and not paying attention to what is going on around them. In my own experience it takes years to become a knowledgable and hands on around horses. I am a horse owner plus I take care of some other horses at our barn. Before I handle a horse I have to go over everything with the owner. I don’t want to say that everyone is careless but going into your pasture without your permission is very screwed up.


  2. I live by this Milford horse farm and have some friends that were there when this incident took place. First, of all there is a sign posted not to feed/pet horses. Mr. Vendalla’s child had a face full of cotton candy. Vendalla placed his child in harms way when the horse try to eat the cottom candy off of his face, therefore biting his child. This case stinks and people like Vendalla ruin it for everyone else. Vendalla was irresponsible with his actions. It is not the horse’s fault nor the farm owner. This horse should not be deemed dangerous by any means. I have an older Arabrian mare that is well trained but she could be a handful at times. I have nonhorse people asking me if they can ride her. I just tell them “no” you could not handle her. No one wants to be sued for negligence.


    • That is really interesting to read what really happend that day. Mr. Vendalla had no business placing any kind of suit against these people. Shame on the courts for not dismissing it for what it is, a nuisance case.


  3. You have to be so careful these days, and find adults do not listen to you when you say do not pet this one, almost like well, the horse came to me….Most people do not know how to stay safe around a horse. they don'[t know or haven’t ever been around them.


  4. Connecticut Governor Files Legislation to Counter Impact of “Horses Are Vicious” Court Decision

    February 14, 2014

    Connecticut Governor Daniel P. Malloy announced on Tuesday that he has introduced legislation designed to protect horse owners and the state’s associated agriculture industry by clarifying into law that domesticated horses are not wild animals and as such as are not “inherently dangerous.”

    The proposal, currently being considered by the General Assembly’s Environment Committee, stems from a 2012 Appellate Court decision, which found as a practical matter that all horses are wild. That ruling, currently being appealed to the state

    Supreme Court, could negatively impact thousands of horse owners and associated farmers in Connecticut.

    Significantly higher insurance premiums or even the possibility of becoming uninsurable are possible consequences of the court decision.


    • Governor Daniel Malloy knows that the horse business in Connecticut is big business for this state. Thank you Governor Malloy for taking a stand for the horses of Connecticut.


    • So glad to read this… how many large herbivores can be arbitrarily classified as ‘‘a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious?” These are PREY ANIMALS as we all know.

      Reading that the child involved (who was sadly injured) had a face full of cotton candy explains a lot. There is no way the horse could differentiate that from a treat being offered.

      Unbelievable our courts and country is filling with people having so little sense about animals, especially those species we’ve known so long, and so successfully.


  5. This is beyond stupid. Horses are not vicious. Horses do not seek you out to hurt you. This is wrong on so many levels. Horses are no inherently vicious at all.


  6. My father taught me at an early age that I might want to think twice about petting a horse I don’t know because some horses will bite or threaten to bite. Some horses are very territorial around their stall, and this may be the only time they act like they want to bite. Horses are a little bit like humans in that they like to have a little space around them, and they particularly do not want people that they do not know getting into their space unless it’s the horses idea (which it often is).

    Horses are not vicious. If they were vicious, they would never have been domesticated. I go into the pasture to catch my horse with just her lead rope. Usually, a few horses will approach me along the way (I have to go through two pastures). If they get too close, I just move them away with a step or a twirl of the lead rope. They are far more afraid of us than we are of them. The main thing is not surprise them or stand somewhere directly in front of or behind them when they cannot see you. They can startle.

    My horses and the horses of some of my friends almost seem to be protective of us—not that they wouldn’t spook or make a mistake resulting in an injury, but they don’t seem to have any desire to harm anyone. Most accidents occur when they think they see something that looks harmful to them.


  7. But something to think about is in the second reservation the U.S. included when it signed the 1997 International Plant Protection Convention which included horses and burros as a potential harm to agricultural—that one of the reasons that such species need to be controlled or eradicated is to protect the environment, animal, and human health. Looking down the road at the ACA after seeing all domestic livestock as well as cats and dogs on the alien, invasive species list, I cannot help but wonder if there is an agenda somewhere to get data on how many people are hurt by animals or while engaging in sports or work with animals to justify the goals of the UN CBD and the IPPC.


  8. Wrapping horses up in Red tape and then placing a bow on top for proslaughterphiles. The Judge should have said While Inherent Dangers exist with any animal, any species can do something unacceptable, however, the responsibility should lay Equally with participants and the keepers, owners of Equine and Not upon the horses unmistakable nature. While each case should ne handled case by case only, we cant judge anyones situation without all the factors. Liability in injury should be upon parents to perceive sudden, unexpected dangers and withdraw child as All horses express warning signals notoriously. The horses personal past issues, health, circumstances and unexpected reaction to persons should be accounted for. This is a case by case issue and Not a species related arguement.


  9. Here in Florida we solve a lot of problems by posting this state statute…

    § 773.03, an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person, which shall include a corporation or partnership, shall not be liable for an injury to or the death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities and, except as provided in § 773.03, no participant nor any participant’s representative shall have any claim against or recover from any equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or any other person for injury, loss, damage, or death of the participant resulting from any of the inherent risks of equine activities.

    Pretty well covers it…


    • Steve, we have a similar statute but the loophole is ours only says the word PROFESSIONAL so other people are not protected. We all should check our state regs and their language to ensure it is broad enough to protect all horse owners, not just professionals (who can get private insurance already, and should).


  10. The Connecticut Farm Bureau:

    CFBA Defends Horse Industry in State Supreme Court Case
    “The equine industry is a vigorous and active agricultural sector in Connecticut,” says
    Henry Talmage, Executive Director of Connecticut Farm
    Bureau. “We represent and advocate for our members from all sectors of agriculture. It seemed imperative that we lend our voice to the matter to defend our members who earn their living with this type of farm business.“

    Because of the potential impact of the decision on agriculture, the Board of Directors of CFBA voted to commit significant resources and legal assistance to file an
    Amicus Brief with the Supreme Court. The brief was filed in December and the case scheduled to be heard in March.


  11. This looks like another case of “follow the money”.
    The insurance industry has the most to gain from this. From where does funding come for a lawsuit that stems back to 2006?


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