Horse Sues Abuser for Damages in Oregon

Justice seeks to recover costs of ongoing care.


Justice, an eight-year-old horse formerly known as “Shadow,” has filed a lawsuit against his former owner Gwendolyn Vercher at whose hands he suffered abuse and neglect in Oregon: a concerned neighbor in 2017 persuaded the owner to take a starving, rainrot-riddled Justice to see a vet after frostbite damage caused a prolapsed penis. The horse, 300 pounds underweight, was surrendered to rescue Sound Equine Options where he was slowly nursed back to health over the past year; his prolapsed penis is not expected to fully heal.

Vercher plead guilty to animal neglect in July of 2017; as part of her plea agreement, she paid restitution only for the cost of Justice’s care prior to July 6, 2017. Any costs of care going forward from this date were not part of the plea deal. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, in cooperation with Lane Powell law firm and the Law Office of Matt Hamity, is representing Justice in his suit to recover the ongoing costs of care and of pain and suffering.

If successful, this suit would be a groundbreaking case setting the precedent that animals have legal rights and can be legal subjects to sue their abusers in court. Should this case be successful, money will go into a trust set up in Justice’s name to help pay for his ongoing care.

“The rescue, as Justice’s legal guardian, started this process,” stated Matthew Liebman of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Guardians have the legal right to seek restitution on behalf of the animal. The rescue was not the wronged party — Justice was, so the suit has been filed under his name.”

This case certainly opens up a fascinating ethical discussion about animals’ rights within the legal system. Horse Nation suggested a future reality in which a horse could sue a rider for having bad hands, or inability to post the trot. “Any precedent we set here would be limited to animal cruelty,” Liebman cautioned. “In a case such as this one, it’s a little more cut and dry in terms of the neglect suffered by Justice. We can easily prove animal suffering.”

For more information about this case, please visit the Animal Legal Defense Fund page.

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