Justice the horse sues his abuser. Is that legal? And if it is what happens next?

ALDF seeks justice for an abused horse

On this week’s program, we’ll talk about the  #NotProperty movement in animal welfare, focusing on a lawsuit filed on behalf of an abused horse.

In most (all?) states animals are treated as property, not as sentient creatures with feelings, emotions, and the ability to communicate. That limits humans’ ability to protect animals and seek redress for the horrible things that are sometimes done to them.

But what if animals could sue their abusers in court?

ALDF Attorney Sarah Hanneken

That’s what the Animal Legal Defense Fund is doing.

My guest this Sunday at 1:08 PM PT will be Sarah Hanneken ALDF litigation fellow. She has an impressive record working to defend animals and it will be interesting to hear about this case and others, including efforts to improve the legal standing of all animals.

Here’s the background:

Hillsboro, Oregon – Justice, an eight-year-old horse, is a party to a lawsuit filed today against his former abuser to recover the costs of his ongoing medical care and his pain and suffering. Justice is represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals. If successful, this groundbreaking lawsuit would be the first to establish that animals have a legal right to sue their abusers in court.

“Horses, like Justice, are intelligent animals with the capacity for rich emotional lives,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “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.”

Click the image to donate and support ALDF’s #NotProperty campaign.

Justice was cruelly neglected for months and endured tremendous pain and suffering. At the time of his rescue, he was emaciated and suffered from frostbite, lice, and rain rot. As a result of his neglect, Justice endured permanent physical and psychological injuries that will require specialized medical care for the rest of his life.

Justice’s abuser pled guilty to criminal animal neglect in 2017. In the criminal plea agreement, she agreed to pay restitution only for the cost of Justice’s care prior to July 6, 2017. The lawsuit seeks damages for Justice’s care since this date and going forward. Any funds awarded to Justice through the lawsuit would be placed in a legal trust established to pay for his care.

Justice was relinquished to Sound Equine Options, an Oregon nonprofit horse rescue and rehabilitation organization. His complicated medical needs are a barrier to finding a permanent home for him, a problem exacerbated by the significant costs of his care.

The Oregon legislature and courts have been a leader in recognizing that animals are sentient beings that occupy a unique position in the law. The Oregon Supreme Court, for example, has already recognized that animals should be considered individual “victims” in criminal animal cruelty cases. However, existing laws still lag far behind our current understanding of animal sentience by classifying animals as property.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund thanks the law firm Lane Powell and the Law Office of Matt Hamity for their assistance on this case.

The complaint is available upon request.