HARTFORD (CN) - The Connecticut Supreme Court last week sided with the family of a toddler who was bitten in 2006 by a horse named Scuppy.
The Supreme Court affirmed
an Appellate Court decision finding the owner or keeper of a domestic animal "that has not previously displayed mischievous propensities has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries that are foreseeable because of the animal's naturally mischievous propensities."
The decision stressed that the court did not rule that horses are naturally "vicious," or "dangerous." It sent the case back to trial court to make a determination about liability in the case.
"In other words, neither the Appellate Court nor this court concludes that horses may be presumed to be dangerous. Rather, that issue must be decided on a case-by-case basis," Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote.
According to the original complaint, the Vendrella family went to Glendale Farms and after purchasing some plants from the greenhouse the father placed the plants in the vehicle and walked over to the paddock to admire a brown horse known as Scuppy. The father petted Scuppy as the minor child watched.
"The father stopped petting Scuppy when the [minor] plaintiff .... noticed another horse in the paddock. Suddenly, and without warning, Scuppy lowered his head and bit the [minor] plaintiff ... on his right cheek, removing a large portion of flesh. The injury ultimately required surgery and resulted in a permanent scar on the [minor plaintiff's] right cheek."
The horse was owned by the defendant Astriab Family Limited Partnership.
The court concluded that the Astriab Family "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, regardless of whether the animal had previously caused an injury or was roaming at large," Rogers wrote in the decision. "We also conclude that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether, under the specific facts and circumstances of the present case, it was foreseeable that Scuppy would bite the minor plaintiff causing his injury because horses, as a species, have a natural inclination to bite."
Justices Dennis Eveleigh, Andrew McDonald, and Carmen Espinosa concurred.
Meanwhile, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, fearing the decision would classify all horses as "vicious" and "dangerous" introduced legislation which specifies generally that horses are not vicious. The bill also applies to domesticated ponies, donkeys, and mules.
Malloy said in a statement that the lingering questions were a good reason for lawmakers to act on his bill.
The governor's concern with the propensities of horses is largely economic. If horses become legally classified as dangerous animals, many fear they will be more expensive for horse owners and businesses to insure. There are an estimated 51,671 horses in Connecticut, about one horse for every 60 people.
"While we are still reviewing the opinion released today by the Supreme Court, at first glance, it appears that our legislation is now all the more timely. Connecticut's agriculture sector contributes $3.5 billion to our economy and accounts for about 28,000 jobs in our state," Malloy said. "Protecting owners and handlers of domesticated horses is important to supporting this portion of our economy."