Connecticut’s Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that horses and other domestic animals were inclined to do mischief or be vicious.
The ruling clears the way for a damages case to proceed in the Superior Court over an incident in which a horse named Scuppy bit a child in the face.
The court said the owners of horses and other domestic animals must try to prevent their animals from causing foreseeable injuries.
Owners risked being held liable for negligence if they failed to undertake reasonable steps and an injury resulted, the decision said.
However, the ruling avoided addressing the wider issue of whether horses were inherently vicious.
The justices voted 6-0 to uphold the Appellate Court decision that horses belonged to “a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious”. However, four justices suggested the question of whether an animal is naturally dangerous must be considered individually by lower courts.
The case dates back to an incident in 2006, when a young boy, Anthony Vendrella Jr, was bitten on the face while when he tried to pat Scuppy through a fence.
His family sued the farm, claiming negligence. The case has been tied up for seven years in legal arguments.
The court said the trial judge would have to decide whether the Vendrellas have proved their case on the question of just how dangerous horses were. If that was found to be proved, the issue became whether the defendants were negligent in controlling the horse.
A bill is currently before Connecticut’s General Assembly that proposes to reduce liability exposure for the owner or keeper of a horse, pony, donkey or mule in civil actions for personal injury damages.
In its ruling, the court said: “The natural propensity of horses to nip and bite was recognized by every witness who gave testimony on the subject during the summary judgment proceedings, and, in any event, it is a matter of common knowledge.
“Accordingly, because courts can take judicial notice of matters of common knowledge, the trial court should take judicial notice of the fact that horses have a natural propensity to nip and bite, and leave for the jury the more limited question of whether the defendants, Astriab Family Limited Partnership and Timothy D. Astriab, in light of this knowledge and their knowledge of Scuppy’s past behavior, took reasonable precautions to prevent Scuppy from causing foreseeable harm.”
The ruling can be read here.