Can the Government be Held Responsible for a Breeding Farm’s CEM Outbreak?
A few years ago, some valuable breeding stallions contracted Contagious Equine Metritis (“CEM”), an equine venereal disease, while boarded at a breeding farm in Kentucky. The stallion owners sued the breeding farm, alleging that it was negligent in allowing the CEM to spread to their stallions from an incoming stallion, who had been brought to the farm from a Wisconsin quarantine facility where it contracted the CEM. [CEM is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), in part through its importation guidelines for horses that arrive from foreign countries and are quarantined. These guidelines also prohibit horses with CEM from being imported into the United States.]
As part of its defense of the stallion owners’ lawsuit, the breeding farm attempted to add the Federal Government into the case through a Third-Party Complaint, claiming that the USDA had a legal duty to use reasonable care in quarantining, testing, and examining imported horses (such as the stallion who brought CEM to the Wisconsin quarantine facility and caused it to spread to the stallion who would later move to Kentucky). The breeding farm also asserted that the USDA breached a legal duty to warn owners of outbreaks.
Unfortunately for the farm, the USDA’s defense of sovereign immunity prevented liability against it. The Federal Government enjoys sovereign immunity, which prevents litigation against it from succeeding, except in limited situations. In this case, the court held, none of the exceptions permitted the case to succeed. The breeding farm then sought to amend its Third-Party Complaint to allege that the USDA was liable because its officials were required to prevent the outbreak. But the Court dismissed that, as well, finding that USDA regulations imposed no such duty.
Accordingly, the breeding farm’s case against the Federal Government was dismissed.
Please keep in mind that all cases are different; whether or not the government can be liable for injury to horses depends on the facts and, of course, the law. Discuss your situation with a knowledgeable lawyer.
[The case was Harnish v. Liberty Farm Equine Reproduction Center, LLC, DeGraff Stables Kentucky, LLC, and DeGraff Stables, Inc., 2012 WL 119762; 2012 WL 3028052 (N.D. Ind. 2012).]
Julie Fershtman is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, three books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 29 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance. For more information, please also visit www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.View All Posts by Author ›
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