In a first of its kind court case, a horse in Oregon that had been surrendered for rescue by his owner, is now suing its alleged abusers in court.
In 2017, an 8-year-old Quarter Horse was surrendered and the horse’s owner at the time, Gwendolyn Vercher, later pleaded guilty to animal cruelty.
The horse, renamed Justice, was allegedly starved, suffered from frost bite on his genitalia and infested with lice.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a personal injury complaint on behalf of Justice in Oregon’s Washington County Circuit Court. The lawsuit seeks to recover the costs of Justice’s ongoing medical care and pain and suffering.
If successful, this groundbreaking 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.”
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 pled 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 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 nonprofit 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.