Horse who was victim of neglect sues former owner to cover ongoing care

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Justice is involved in a potentially ground-breaking lawsuit in Oregon.
Justice is involved in a potentially ground-breaking lawsuit in Oregon.

A horse named Justice is suing his former owner for at least $US100,000 over his neglect, with the money intended to cover his ongoing medical care and compensate him for his pain and suffering.

Eight-year-old Justice is a party to the potentially groundbreaking lawsuit filed this week which argues that animals have the right to sue their alleged abusers in court.

Justice, an American Quarter Horse and Appaloosa cross, is represented in the case by the Oregon-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, a legal advocacy organization for animals.

If successful, the lawsuit, filed in the state circuit court in Washington County, would be the first to establish that animals have a legal right to sue their abusers in court.

The fund’s executive director, Stephen Wells, said horses like Justice were 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.”

Justice was in poor condition when taken into care. He was emaciated and suffered from frostbite, lice, and rain rot. As a result, he endured permanent physical and psychological injuries that will require specialized medical care for the rest of his life.

Gwendolyn Vercher, 51, of Cornelius, named as the defendant in the lawsuit, pled guilty to criminal animal neglect in 2017 in relation to the care of Justice, who was known as Shadow when in her care.

Justice, formerly known as Shadow, was in poor condition when taken into care.
Justice, formerly known as Shadow, was in poor condition when taken into care.

In the criminal plea agreement, she agreed to pay restitution only for the cost of Justice’s care before July 6, 2017.

The lawsuit, which names the plaintiff as “Justice, an American Quarter Horse, by and through his guardian Kim Mosiman,” seeks damages for Justice’s care since that date and going forward.

Any funds awarded to Justice through the lawsuit would be placed in a legal trust established to pay for his care.

Justice was relinquished to Sound Equine Options, an Oregon nonprofit horse rescue and rehabilitation organization of which Mosiman is executive director. His complicated medical needs are a barrier to finding a permanent home for him, a problem exacerbated by the significant costs of his care.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund said Oregon legislature and courts have been a leader in recognizing that animals are sentient beings that occupy a unique position in the law.

The rehabilitation of Justice took months and he requires ongoing specialist care.
The rehabilitation of Justice, pictured when he came into care, took months and he requires ongoing specialist care.

The Oregon Supreme Court has already recognized that animals should be considered individual “victims” in criminal animal cruelty cases. However, existing laws still lag far behind our current understanding of animal sentience by classifying animals as property.

The lawsuit describes Justice’s poor condition when taken into care and his ongoing care requirements. He was seriously underweight and his health problems included a prolapsed penis.

It asserts that Vercher’s failure to provide Justice with the care required under state law led to him suffering from starvation, emaciation, skin disease and pain. It rendered him unable to retract his penis to its normal position inside its sheath.

“As a result of defendant’s negligence, Justice has incurred past and future expenses for reasonable and necessary medical bills and long-term care in an amount to be determined at trial but not less than $US100,000. He had also incurred non-economic damages for pain and suffering in an amount to be determined at trial.”

The law firm Lane Powell and the Law Office of Matt Hamity represent Justice in the case.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.

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