Lawsuits for Defective Equine Products
Disputes involving defective horse feed have, in some instances, turned into lawsuits. Several years ago, I worked on a case where a horse died from blister beetle poisoning, and the horse owners sued a product manufacturer, the hay grower, and the hay seller.
“Blister beetle poisoning” is a type of poisoning that can result when a horse ingests a number of beetles called “blister beetles.” In the tissue of these types of beetles is a toxic substance called “cantharidin.” Blister beetles sometimes swarm in or near alfalfa fields in certain regions of the United States, typically the Southwest, and at certain times of the year. When those alfalfa fields are cut and baled for hay, blister beetles sometimes get caught in the hay and are not always immediately visible. Later, horses eating the hay might ingest blister beetles. Some will die or become seriously injured.
Liability for Defective Feed
Lawsuits arises from horses becoming poisoned or ill from defective feed or hay can involve several legal theories, depending on the facts and applicable law. They can include negligence, breach of warranty, breach of contract, products liability, fraud, and/or a consumer protection law/deceptive trade practices act.
Burden of Proof
In a case involving defective hay, such as the blister beetle case I handled, the one who brings a claim or suit bears the burden of proof and must come forth with sufficient evidence to prove:
- The horse died from blister beetle poisoning. Has a veterinarian concluded, to a reasonable degree of veterinary certainty, that blister beetle poisoning caused the horse’s death? Was a post-mortem examination performed? If so, did the exam find cantharadin in the horse’s system and/or lesions in the horse’s mouth or stomach consistent with blister beetle poisoning? If no post-mortem exam was done, will a qualified veterinarian attest that the horse died from blister beetle poisoning?
- The hay at issue caused the poisoning. Proving the source of the fatal cantharidin can be difficult since stables sometimes some keep inventories of feed and hay that originate from different sources.
- Damages. The aggrieved horse owner must prove damages (“damages” are what the law allows as compensation for losses). The applicable state’s law will tell what plaintiffs can potentially recover from the responsible parties.
Defective product cases can be very complex and costly to pursue and to defend. Defendants (the ones who are sued) can assert many possible defenses, and all will depend on the facts and the applicable law. Examples of defenses include, but are not limited to: the seller or distributor was unaware of the defect, the state Commercial Code does not apply to the one being sued, the one being sued had no control over the condition of the hay, the one being sued was not negligent because he or she fulfilled all obligations reasonably required (such as a proper inspection), the statements allegedly made by the seller do not legally qualify as “warranties,” under the law.
If you have questions about blister bettle poisoning or about other defective products, please let me know.
Additional information on blister bettles:
- Poisonous Blister Beetles - Horsechannel.com
- Equine Health Tips - Equine Health Studies Program, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University
- University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
- New Mexico State University College of Agriculture, Consumer & Environmental Sciences
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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