Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed legislation clarifying that domesticated horses cannot be considered vicious, responding to a legal claim over a horse at a Milford farm that threatens a far-reaching and damaging impact on the state’s lucrative horse industry.
The state Appellate Court overturned a lower court ruling two years ago, saying the owner of a farm where a horse named Scuppy bit a child demonstrated that the horse belongs to “a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious.” The case is pending before the Connecticut Supreme Court, which heard an appeal last September.
Horse owners and farmers say if the Supreme Court agrees that horses may be classified as vicious, insurance coverage for businesses in which horses and people work together would skyrocket or policies would be dropped. The result would be an end to the state’s sizable industry of boarding, training, lessons and breeding businesses, they say.
“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,” Malloy said.
The legislation requires a presumption in any civil action that a horse, pony, donkey or mule is not inherently dangerous and “does not possess a vicious propensity.” Such a presumption may be rebutted by evidence that an animal was not raised or kept by a person, according to the legislation.
Doug Dubitsky, a lawyer who represented farmers and horse businesses in the case before the Supreme Court, said no state has found horses to be inherently vicious. “A horse owner cannot be said to be on notice that any given horse has a given propensity for violence because it’s a horse,” he said.
The Appellate Court overturned a 2010 New Haven Superior Court ruling that sided with the horse’s owner and ruled that the child’s father failed to prove the owner knew of previous incidents of aggression by Scuppy.
The Appellate Court ruled that the injury suffered by the boy was foreseeable and the owners of the farm had a duty to use reasonable care to restrain the animal to prevent injury, the court ruled.