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Horse sues former owner for negligence, wants $100K

This animal isn’t horsing around — he wants justice.

An 8-year-old American quarter horse named — you guessed it — Justice is a plaintiff in a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit seeking $100,000 from his former owner for severe neglect, leaving the animal suffering from weight loss, a prolapsed penis from frostbite, lice and rain rot, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

“As a result of this neglect, Justice was left debilitated and emaciated,” according to the 14-page lawsuit filed Tuesday by the organization on behalf of the horse. “These injuries will require special and expensive medical care for the remainder of his life.”

The lawsuit against Justice’s former owner, Gwendolyn Vercher, claims that courts in Oregon have recognized that animals are victims and that victims have a right to seek legal remedies from their abusers.

“Justice is asking the Court to take these well-established rules to the logical next step and recognize that as a member of the class intended to be protected by Oregon’s anti-cruelty statute, Justice may bring a negligence per se claim based on the standard of care in the [state’s] anti-cruelty statute,” the lawsuit reads.

Justice, formerly named Shadow, is currently living at a rescue facility in Troutdale, according to the lawsuit. The animal was removed from Vercher’s care after she pleaded guilty to criminal animal neglect last year. As part of her plea agreement, Vercher agreed to pay restitution solely for the cost of the horse’s care prior to July 2017. The lawsuit filed this week seeks damages for Justice’s care since that time and moving forward, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement that the lawsuit “simply expands” the Oregon Supreme Court’s previous recognition that animals should be considered victims in criminal animal cruelty cases.

“Horses, like Justice, are intelligent animals with the capacity for rich, tremendous lives,” Wells said. “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.”

If successful, the lawsuit would be the first to establish that animals have a legal right to sue their abusers in court, according to the San Francisco-based animal rights organization.

Sarah Hanneken, one of the attorneys representing Justice, told The Oregonian that state case law has clearly shown that animals have legally protected rights.

“The Oregon legislature clearly established an anti-cruelty statute for the safety and protection of animals,” Hanneken told the newspaper. “Victims of crimes can sue their abusers and animals are sentient beings that are recognized as victims under Oregon law. So with that premise, we’ve come to the conclusion that animals can sue their abusers and we’re confident of our stance in this case.”

Vercher, as well as Justice’s current guardian, did not respond to requests for comment, according to the newspaper.

The lawsuit isn’t the first time an animal has tried to prevail in court.

In 2013, an animal rights group filed a lawsuit to establish the “legal personhood” of a cartoon-loving chimpanzee named Tommy who they said was being held prisoner in a trailer in New York along with other chimps. An appeals court later ruled that the animals didn’t have the legal rights of human beings.

More recently, an appeals court ruled last month in a case regarding selfies taken by a crested macaque named Naruto that lawsuits can’t be filed claiming animals have copyrights to photos. The monkey took a picture of himself using an unattended camera in 2011. (New York Post)

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