'Vicious Horse' Ruling Upheld by Conn. Supreme Court - Legally Weird
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'Vicious Horse' Ruling Upheld by Conn. Supreme Court

Hay isn't the only thing for horses anymore. Apparently Connecticut Supreme Court decisions about their innate "viciousness" are too.

The Connecticut High Court issued a decision Wednesday in a case involving a 2-year-old boy who was allegedly bitten on the cheek by a horse named Scuppy, The Connecticut Post reports.

But did the Connecticut Supreme Court actually rule that horses are "vicious" animals, as some news headlines suggest? The answer is "neigh," not really.

Wild or Not-So-Wild Horses

Anthony Vendrella claimed that a horse owned by the Astriab family bit his young son on the face, "removing a large chunk of it," and wanted its owners to pay for his son's injuries. In determining whether the Astriabs were liable in this animal bite case, it was important to determine if Scuppy -- or indeed, all domestic horses -- were prone to vicious or mischievous behavior.

Owners of animals which have a propensity for dangerous behavior or are not domesticated can often be held strictly liable for injuries or attacks caused by those animals. Horses, however, are typically considered safe, with exceptions for wild or problematic horses -- somewhat like dogs.

In Connecticut, however, the common law doesn't apply strict liability for injuries caused by domesticated animals. Instead, the Connecticut Supreme Court determined that horse owners are only responsible for failing to take reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injuries from a domesticated horse.

The question then becomes whether horses are naturally inclined to bite.

A Horse of a Vicious Color?

The court considered testimony on horses from both sides and found that it was reasonable to find that horses have a natural inclination to bite -- even when not provoked.

If the young boy had been poking at the horse or provoking it, then contributory negligence or assumption of risk defenses may have made the Astriabs immune from liability. But in this case, the Vendrellas allege their son was only attempting to feed the horse some grass.

The Connecticut Supreme Court didn't find that horses were necessarily "vicious," just that they had a tendency to bite humans without provocation. That means horse owners like the Astriabs can be held liable for being negligent with their chomp-happy horses.

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