If my animal is injured how much can I spend to restore it to good health?

by Jonathan D'Arcy

Most owners would say whatever it takes.

Most defendants would say only if it is cheaper than putting it down and buying a new one.

The question has now been answered in favour of the animal owner by a recent decision of the Supreme Court. In the case a passer-by created circumstances that caused a horse to take fright and impale itself on a star picket. The horse suffered serious injuries and required substantial veterinary treatment to ultimately restore it to a sound condition.. The passer-by admitted the he acted carelessly but claimed that the cost of restoring the horse was unreasonable as it would have been cheaper to put it down and buy a new one. The defendant showed that:

  • The owner had spent 47 times the original cost of the horse on its recovery
  • it was 14 years old
  • had vision in one eye only,
  • was an ex-race horse and
  • had occurrences of lameness.

It is to be noted that the owner felt deeply about the horse and took an active role in the treatment including spending nights with the horse when undergoing veterinary treatment tasks which would normally have been undertaken by a veterinary nurse. Moreover the court decided that the owner acted responsibility in trying to keep the medical costs and other expenses to a minimum.

In these circumstances the law is unique and recognises that an injured suffering animal requires an immediate decision as to its treatment. This is in comparison to a damaged motor car where you have the luxury of obtaining detailed estimates of the cost of repairing the car, the time to investigate whether there was an available market for a replacement car and the cost of such a replacement and then, to determine whether there are economic or other reasons which would indicate which of the two available options was the reasonable course to take.

The defendant claimed that when the cost of treatment had become disproportionate to the value of the horse the plaintiff should have decided to mitigate the loss euthanase the horse and replace it. The court said 'No'. It was reasonable for the owner to put the interests of the horse over the interests of the defendant. The owner was entitled to recover the whole cost of restoring the horse to good health from the defendant as well as all related costs.


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