An animal rights group had filed the lawsuit after the horse was abused near Cornelius last spring.

COURTESY PHOTO - Animal rights groups had hoped the lawsuit would set precedent allowing animals the right to sue their abusers in court. While a Washington County judge praised the group for its creativity, the lawsuit was dismissed.An abused horse will not have its day in court, after a Washington County judge threw out a lawsuit that would have given the neglected animal a chance to sue its former owners.

Justice, an 8-year-old American Quarter Horse-Appaloosa mix, had attempted to sue its former owner for $100,000 after it was found starving and neglected on a rural Cornelius farm last spring.

The lawsuit was filed by animal rights advocates who hoped it would spur change in the justice system, arguing that animals are sentient beings who have the right to sue when they are victims of abuse or neglect.

Washington County Pro Tem Judge John Knowles disagreed, dismissing the lawsuit on Monday, Sept. 17.

In a two-page opinion, Knowles wrote that allowing animals the right to sue their owners for neglect was a leap too far. Animals simply don't have the legal standing to sue under Oregon law, Knowles said.

"There are profound implications of a judicial finding that a horse, or any non-human animal for that matter, is a legal entity that has the legal right to assert a claim in a court of law," Knowles wrote. "Such a finding would likely lead to a flood of lawsuits whereby non-human animals could assert claims we now reserve just for humans ... Furthermore, non-human animals are incapable of accepting legal responsibilities."

If the lawsuit were allowed, Knowles argued in court on Sept. 14, cats could file lawsuits after being left out overnight.

Animals can be victims, not people, court says

Lawyers for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal advocacy in animal abuse cases across the country, filed the lawsuit in April against the horse's previous owner Gwendolyn Vercher. Justice was listed as the only plaintiff.

The abused horse was discovered by Vercher's neighbors in March 2017, who called the Oregon Horse Rescue about an extremely emaciated horse on her property, located south of Hillsboro.

The horse, then named Shadow, was 300 pounds underweight, according to the lawsuit. The horse had lice, suffered from rain rot and his genitals had been damaged by frostbite.

The animal was brought to Sound Equine Options, a Troutdale-based horse rescue, where it has lived ever since.

Vercher pleaded guilty to first-degree animal neglect, a misdemeanor, last year. She was placed on three years' probation and is banned from possessing animals or livestock for five years. She was required to pay $3,700 in restitution — the cost of the horse's medical bills between March and July 2017.

But lawyers for the Animal Legal Defense Fund say the horse needs significant medical care. As a result of the horse's injuries, the animal has permanent physical and psychological injuries. Frostbite was so severe, the horse will likely need partial amputation of its penis, according to the lawsuit.

Kim Mosiman, executive director at Sound Equine Options, said the horse is unable to find a new home because of his complicated medical needs.

The case saw some national attention and was featured in an article by The Washington Post. It would have been a first of its kind had it been allowed to continue.

The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled in the past that animals should be considered victims in animal cruelty cases, but no court in the country has ruled that animals should have the same rights as humans to seek damages in civil lawsuits.

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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