The Connecticut Supreme Court issued a decision in a closely-watched case involving liability for a biting injury a boy suffered at a farm when trying to pet a horse. Affirming a decision of a lower court, the state supreme court found that an owner or keeper of a domestic animal has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries that are foreseeable because the animal belongs to a class of animals, such as horses, that is naturally inclined to cause such injuries, regardless of whether the animal had previously caused an injury. Accordingly, the owner may be held liable for negligence if he or she fails to take reasonable steps and an injury results. However the court took great pains to explain what the decision does not mean. According to the opinion, the court did not adopt a rule under which a keeper of a horse can be held strictly liable for injuries caused by the animal. Strict liability refers to liability without proof that the defendant was negligent. The court also specifically rejected the argument that injuries from horse bites are foreseeable as a matter of law because all horses have a natural propensity to bite under all circumstances. In other words, the court did not conclude that horses may be presumed to be dangerous. Rather, that issue must be decided on a case-by-case basis, and therefore, the case was sent to the trial court for an individual determination of whether the defendant was negligent.
Legislation supported by the horse industry and the governor is pending in Connecticut to declare that horses are not inherently vicious or dangerous in civil liability cases. Check the AVMA monthly state legislative updates to see if the legislation is adopted this year.