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In a longshot lawsuit, animal rights activists have filed a lawsuit in the name of a horse named Justice that lives in Oregon. While Justice isn't the proverbial horse with no name that was let free after being rode through the desert for nine days, this horse seems to have a meritorious claim against its former owner.
You see, Justice was severely neglected, left to fend for himself, out the rain and elements. When rescuers found him, he was emaciated, 300 pounds underweight, riddled with lice, rain rot (skin disease), and frostbite. Now, Justice's champions are suing his former owner in order to recover the costs of future medical care and for the horse's pain and suffering.
Can a Horse Really Sue?
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) recognizes that this lawsuit, if successful, "would be the first to establish that animals have a legal right to sue their abusers in court." Executive Director of the ALDF, Stephen Wells, explained that horses lead "rich emotional lives" and that "Oregon law already recognizes Justice's right to be free from cruelty -- this lawsuit simply expands the remedies available when abusers violate animals' legal rights."
Justice's owner was brought up on criminal charges in 2017 and pleaded guilty. As part of the criminal plea, the owner was sentenced to three years of probation, and to pay restitution for medical care. Unfortunately for Justice, the expenses ordered paid only went through July 2017. Because Justice requires lifelong medical care, the lawsuit seeks to recover $100,000 to be held in trust for Justice's future medical needs.
A Civil Nightmare
The concept of pets and animals being more than merely property is nothing new in the law. In fact, over a decade ago, a strong push was made to start recognizing the special relationship that pets and animals have to their owners beyond just being their legal "property."
However, these laws have tended to focus on the owners, rather than the animals themselves, in an attempt to better compensate owners for the loss of their pets.