By Suzana Gartner & Daniel Fin

Horses can be viewed in today’s society as many things ranging from personal pets, to vehicles, and also as athletes competing for first-place prizes. This is what makes Equine Law so particularly interesting in Canada. Disputes may arise resulting from injuries to a rider and/or their horse. Disputes may also arise within horse sale and purchase agreements, horse boarding and leasing agreements, as well as horse breeding and breeder agreements. Problems may also arise when horse racing leads to injuries or even death. Gartner & Associates have successfully handled a variety of disputes just like the ones mentioned above, however, with all the potential disputes that have arisen, there is one thing in common that is problematic: horses, as all animals (outside of Quebec), are viewed as personal property. This creates an issue when seeking appropriate remedies for horses who have been negligently cared for and neglected.

Horses, who are considered as personal property in legal terms, presently do not have legal standing to enforce their rights as sentient beings. So, what happens when a horse is neglected and suffers under the hands of their negligent owner? The owner is criminally charged but the horse is left alone without monetary remedies to cover the cost of treatment and care to relieve the negative effects of the negligent care. Fortunately, an Oregon court now has the opportunity to revolutionize animal law, help animals enforce their rights, and to allow for animals to seek and acquire appropriate remedies for their mishaps as victims.

In early May of 2018, the Washington County Circuit court filed a lawsuit for an 8-year-old horse by the name of Justice who is the very plaintiff against his former owner, Gwendoyln Vercher, who negligently left Justice out in the cold winter months without adequate amounts of food or shelter [1]. Justice, upon rescue, was found to be nearly 300 pounds underweight, infested with lice, and suffering from rain rot and severe frostbite. In severe pain, emaciated, and frail, Justice will now require extensive surgery and long-term specialized veterinary care.

The Oregon court responsible for the complaint of Vercher’s negligent care of Justice recognizes that “horses are intelligent animals with capacity for rich and emotional lives…” [2]. Oregon law also “recognizes animals as victims and that victims have a legal right to seek remedies from their abusers.” Justice, however, as an animal, does not have the same perks as individuals do and does not have legal standing to raise this claim. Generally speaking, standing refers to the legal right of a person or group to challenge conduct of another in a judicial setting. In other words, it is the ability of a person to sue another [3]. Persons usually include individual humans and include legal entities which are given the rights of a natural person which may include corporations and estates. Animals, however, do not have the status of persons and remain classified as property. This presently impedes animals like Justice from acquiring justice.

Generally, other than in Quebec after the passing of Bill-54, animals remain classified as, legally speaking, personal property. Justice’s fate, as well as many other neglected animals, will lie with the decision of this Oregon court to progress animal law to be more empathetic to the very creatures it is intended to protect and provide them with the remedies they deserve.

[1] “Groundbreaking Lawsuit Argues Animals Have the Right to Sue Their Abusers in Court.” Animal Legal Defense Fund, 1 May 2018, http://aldf.org/press-room/groundbreaking-lawsuit-argues-animals-right-sue-abusers-court/.

[2] Weiss, Debra Cassens. “Suit Argues Animals Have the Right to Sue Their Abusers.” ABA Journal, 1 May 2018, http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/suit_argues_animals_have_the_right_to_sue_their_abusers/

[3] Barron’s Canadian Law Dictionary, sub verbo “Standing”.

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