Personal Injury

Equine Law







Connecticut Governor Helps Horse Owners After High Court “Lumps” Horses in with “Vicious” Animals

      The Facts.  In May 2006, Anthony Vendrella and his 2-year old son went to Glendale Farms in Milford, Connecticut to buy some plants.  After putting the plants in the car, Vendrella took his son over to a paddock adjacent to the parking lot, where three horses were housed.  Vendrella than began stroking one of the horses, Scuppy, on the head while holding his son.  When Vendrella turned his attention to another horse, Scuppy nipped the toddler’s cheek.  The bite removed a portion of the flesh, requiring surgery and leaving a permanent scar.


      The Lawsuit.  Vendrella sued the farm owner, Timothy Astriab, claiming that the horse, by its very nature, “is capable of biting someone without provocation or predisposition and this was known to [the owner].”  Astriab countered that he had no prior knowledge of any “vicious disposition or propensities on the part of Scuppy.”  In fact, in the 28 years that horses had been housed on Glendale Farms, neither Scuppy nor any other horse had bitten anyone.


      The Legal Proceedings.  The original case was dismissed when Vendrella could not show that Astriab knew that Scuppy specifically, and not horses generally, had a tendency to bite people or other horses.  But on appeal, Vendrella won.  Astriab then appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court.


      In 2013, the Supreme Court, relying on the case of Bischoff v. Cheney from 1914, affirmed the decision of the appellate court, finding that horses do indeed belong to a “species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious.”  The Court’s finding appears to have been based primarily on the testimony of a veterinarian, an animal control officer and Astriab himself, all of whom acknowledged the seemingly obvious, but not fatal, fact that horses can nip and bite.  The Court, however, took this rather tepid testimony and found, as a matter of law, that:


    • The owner or keeper of a domestic animal has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the animal from causing injuries that are foreseeable because the animal belongs to a class of animals that is naturally inclined to cause such injuries [nipping and biting].


      The Court continued:

    • [I]t was foreseeable that Scuppy would bite the minor plaintiff causing his injury because horses, as a species, have a natural inclination to bite.


      The Court sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether the injury sustained by Vendrella’s son was foreseeable to Astriab.


     While the Court stopped short of labelling horses as “vicious,” it lumped them into the category of animals defined in Bischoff “to do mischief or be vicious.”  When the decision was discussed in the media, reporters naturally focused on the word “vicious.”


       The New Legislation. Recognizing the potentially far-reaching consequences of this decision – from expanded liability of horse owners to the uninsurability of horses as “vicious animals” – Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy introduced legislation to protect horse owners and others.  The law states that:


    • In any civil action brought against the owner or keeper...,  such horse, pony, donkey or mule shall not be found to belong to a species that possesses a naturally mischievous or vicious propensity.


      The legislation was passed unanimously by both the Connecticut State Senate and House of Representatives.  The Governor issued a public statement, saying, “Connecticut’s agriculture sector contributes $3.5 billion to our economy and accounts for about 28,000 jobs in our state.  Protecting owners and handlers of domesticated horses is important to supporting this portion of our economy.”


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