Legislation to address state Supreme Court ruling on horses advances to state Senate

Hartford - Legislators of the state House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill on Thursday that said horses, ponies, donkeys and mules do not belong to a species that possess "a naturally mischievous or vicious propensity."

The bill next moves to the Senate.

The bill would reduce horse owners' liability for an injury their horse might cause and stems from a lawsuit involving a boy who was bit on the cheek by a horse named Scuppy in Milford.

The lawsuit made its way to the Connecticut Supreme Court, and in March the court upheld an appellate court decision that determined a horse belongs to "a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious."

The owner or keeper of a horse or other domestic animal "has the 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," the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled. Thus owners can be held liable for negligence if someone is injured and they don't take reasonable steps to prevent it, the court said.

"I think to label a horse - as a species - as inherently dangerous or vicious is pretty ridiculous," said state Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold. "And I don't know where this would end if the judges can label a species like horses inherently vicious. ... You might as well say dogs can be inherently vicious or cats can be inherently vicious."

State Rep. Linda Gentile, D-Ansonia, said there are close to 52,000 horses in Connecticut. Without this legislation, it is "very likely" horse owners would become uninsurable, which could jeopardize the entire horse industry, she said.

The legislation pushes back against the Connecticut Supreme Court decision and would not permit any civil action brought against the owner or keeper of a horse to recover damages for any personal injury allegedly caused by the horse. There would also be the presumption that such horse "did not have a propensity to engage in behavior that would foreseeable cause injury to humans," according to the bill. This presumption may be rebutted by evidence that the horse exhibited past behavior that would have warned the owner that the horse could behave in a way that allegedly caused personal injury.

"I'm glad that the General Assembly continues to advance our timely legislation protecting owners and handlers of domesticated horses, and I'm confident that the Senate will also look favorably on approving this so that I can sign it into law," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in a prepared statement.

"Connecticut has a large population of horse owners and handlers, and the associated agriculture sector of our economy continues to grow, contributing $3.5 billion annually in our state's economy and accounting for 28,000 jobs."

j.somers@theday.com

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