By Adam (A.J.) Allegro, Esq.

There has been a great deal of buzz throughout both the legal and equestrian communities surrounding an issue currently pending before Connecticut’s Supreme Court regarding whether the characteristics of a horse fall into the category of a generally tame or domesticated animal or, instead, make it an inherently vicious creature.

In general, Connecticut law provides that if a species of animal which has been domesticated and is typically known to be a tame species injures someone, the owner or keeper of that animal would not be liable for the injury, unless the animal had some vicious tendencies which the owner/keeper knew about and, despite knowing about the animal, failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the injury from occurring. The standard is different for naturally vicious or “wild” animals, where an owner/keeper will generally be found liable for any injuries caused by the animal.

Here is an example: if someone owns a house cat and the cat has never attacked anyone and has always been well-behaved around people, but the cat suddenly scratched a house guest, the owner would not be liable for the injury. However, if the homeowner had a well-trained pet grizzly bear with the same history as the cat for acting well-behaved, and the bear suddenly mauled a house guest, the owner would certainly be held liable for the injuries sustained.

Note: In Connecticut there is an exception for dogs, as a special law was created by the legislature which holds an owner/keeper liable for any injury caused by their dog, regardless of whether the dog was ever vicious in the past. The only exception to this special rule include if dog attacks as a result of being (1) teased, (2) tormented, or (3) if the person injured is involved in certain conduct which would reasonably cause a well-behaved dog to attack.

The issue of concern over horses stems from a fairly recent event in which a Connecticut boy was bitten in the face by a horse and his family filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the horse’s owner/keeper. The trial court threw out the case and ruled that a horse is as a generally tame, domesticated animal, and, as there was no evidence that the horse “Scuppy” acted viciously in the past, the owner/keeper was not liable for the injuries. However, the case was appealed, and Connecticut’s Appellate Court disagreed with the trial court’s decision and ruled that, for lack of a better example, horses are more like a bear than a cat (based on the example I gave above) in that horses, as a species, are inclined to do “mischief” or “be vicious” to humans. So, the issue was recently brought before Connecticut’s Supreme Court to determine which of the two prior courts got it right.

Personally, as a life-long Connecticut resident in a rural town with a lot of horses, the thought of a horse falling into the category of an inherently vicious or dangerous animal seems a bit ridiculous. For centuries, Americans have relied on horses for transportation, agriculture, and even as teammates in equestrian competitions, making horses seem to be a fairly clear example of a domesticated creature.

The issue is certainly an interesting one, and this case has already made headlines not just in Connecticut, but throughout the country. Additional economic concerns may also develop if the Appellate Court’s decision is upheld, as horse farms, equestrian training facilities, and possibly even homeowners with horses could face new financial burdens if coverage for horses is eliminated from standard property insurance contracts, or if additional premium costs are required in order for horse owners to protect themselves from liability.