Justice the Horse Sues Former Abuser
Hillsboro, Oregon - Justice, an eight-year-old horse, is a party to a lawsuit filed on May 1, 2018, 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 (ALDF), the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals. If successful, this ground-breaking 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.”
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, 51-year-old Gwendolyn Vercher from Cornelius, Oregon, pleaded 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 more than $100,000 in 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 not-for-profit 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.
Read the complaint.
Photos are courtesy of ALDF.
Main Photo: Justice, an eight-year-old Quarter Horse/Appaloosa cross, immediately after he was rescued. He was found extremely emaciated with a prolapsed penis from frostbite, and suffering from lice and rain scald.