Conn. Court Decides on Horses' Propensity to Cause Harm

Conn. Court Decides on Horses' Propensity to Cause Harm

The Connecticut Supreme Court skirted the issue of whether horses are by nature a vicious species, ruling instead that horse owners and keepers have "a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries."

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

On March 26, the Connecticut Supreme Court skirted the issue of whether horses are by nature a vicious species, ruling instead that horse owners and keepers have “a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries that are foreseeable because the animal belongs to a species or breed that is naturally inclined to cause such injuries, and that the owner may be held liable for negligence if he or she fails to take such reasonable steps and an injury results.” This duty would result in court decisions on a case-by-case basis.

The case stems from 2006 when a toddler was bitten by a horse on property belonging to the animal's owner, Timothy Astriab, when the child’s father held him up to pet the horse over the fence, despite posted signs asking visitors not to pet or feed the pastured horses. Initially, in 2010, a court in New Haven sided with the horse owner. But an appellate court overturned that ruling in February 2012, resulting in the Supreme Court case decided Wednesday.

Fred Mastele, acting president of the Connecticut Horse Council (CHC), expressed concern about how the decision will affect the Astriab family and horse owners in general. Mastele's concerns include what steps the family should have taken to protect people from their horses; how owners and keepers are expected to protect the public from their horses; if new legislation would be enacted regarding fencing, public activities, transporting horses through Connecticut, requirements for trainers and lesson horses, horse camps, and therapeutic riding programs.

“The CHC is in the process of absorbing and processing the information from the decision,” said Mastele. “However, in my opinion, what the Supreme Court has done is support the appellate court’s decision of reversal and said … 'as a matter of law, the owner or keeper of a domestic animal has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the animal from causing injures that are foreseeable because the animal belongs to a class of animals that is naturally inclined to cause such injuries, regardless of whether the animal had previously caused an injury or was roaming at large.’ ”

Rae Paige Schwarz, owner of Quarry Hill Farm in Lakeville, Conn., added “I think the outcome is a good one.”

Earlier this year, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy introduced still-pending legislation that would prohibit domestic horses from being considered vicious.

“This legislation will protect owners of domesticated horses from a precedent-setting state court decision that unfortunately used too large of a brush to paint an entire species of animals as wild, threatens an industry, and would treat these owners unlike any other state in the nation,” said Malloy.

The court's full decision is available online

About the Author

Diane E. Rice

Diane E. Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin, then melded her education and her lifelong passion for horses in an editorial position at Appaloosa Journal. She currently works as a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and photographer and has served on American Horse Publications’ board of directors. Rice spends her spare time gardening, reading, serving in her church, and with her daughters, grandchildren, and pets.

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