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Welcome to our Supreme and Appellate Court summaries webpage.  On this page, I provide abbreviated summaries of decisions from the Connecticut appellate courts which highlight important issues and developments in Connecticut law, and provide practical practice pointers to litigants.  I have been summarizing these court decisions internally for our firm for more than 10 years, and providing relevant highlights to my municipal and insurance practice clients for almost as long.  It was suggested that a wider audience might appreciate brief summaries of recent rulings that condense often long and confusing decisions down to their basic elements.  These summaries are limited to the civil litigation decisions based on my own particular field of practice, so you will not find distillations of the many criminal and matrimonial law decisions on this page.  I may from time to time add commentary, and may even criticize a decision’s reasoning. Such commentary is solely my opinion . . . and when mistakes of trial counsel are highlighted because they triggered a particular outcome, I will try to be mindful of the adage . . . “There but for the grace of God . . ..”  I hope the reader finds these summaries helpful. – Edward P. McCreery

Posted March 26, 2014

Are horses naturally dangerous animals by their very nature?  Looks like the Supremes tries their best to duck this controversial issue.

When a father took his two year old son over to visit a horse by the fence at a nursery, the horse unexpectedly reached over and bit off a chunk of the son’s cheek.  The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants because they had no knowledge of any prior incidents with this horse.  The Appellate Court reversed, holding that it was foreseeable that a horse would bite people. 

Strenuously trying to avoid being tarred and feathered for saying all horses are naturally dangerous, the Supreme Court concluded that such issues must be decided on a case by case basis by the fact finder.   Acknowledging there was a ton of evidence below that all horses may randomly bite people, the majority declined to say they are naturally dangerous ….or that strict liability attaches when they do bite someone.  Equally, they refused to say that an owner was exempt from liability unless the horse was either roaming…… or was known to have dangerous propensities.   It will be up to the parties to present evidence to the jury that horses do….or do not….generally have dangerous propensities…..and whether this particular horse had any dangerous propensities…..and then the jury can decide if the owner took reasonable precautions based upon the entirety of the facts, i.e., was the owner negligent for not having prevented the harm.  The Court also said even if the jury in this particular case later concludes that horses have a natural tendency to bite, that conclusion will not be binding on future juries who will have to hear the evidence in their case.

Also trying not to upset horse owners, but taking a harsher stance was the concurring opinion.  These Justices said that everyone knows that horses nip and bite, not because they are dangerous, but maybe just because they are inquisitive or playful.  Therefore the CT Courts should bite the bullet and simple acknowledge that  horses do a have a tendency to bite and skip to that point by so instructing the jury and then asking the jury to decide ….did the owner take reasonable steps to prevent the biting.   The retort of the majority was …maybe everyone knew that horses tend to bite in the 19th century, but not in this day and age of automobiles.

And by the way…for you cat owners….cats were singled out as generally being the most timid and docile of domesticated animals (ha - I’ve seen a few that would dispel that suggestion)….and for your bull owners…..they were singled out as being some of the most dangerous, where special precautions for the safety of people must be taken.

[Whether the decision is solidly based on long standing principals of negligence and animal liability, or not, it’s a sad state of our society that you might have to double fence a horse to keep people from being hurt due to their lack of common sense.]

 

The facts and holdings of any case may be redacted, paraphrased or condensed for ease of reading.  No summary can be an exact rendering of any decision, however, so interested readers are referred to the full decisions.  The docket number of each case is a hyperlink to the Connecticut Judicial Department online slip opinion.  ©2014 Pullman & Comley, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

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