When Justice was discovered on the property of his former owner in Washington County, Oregon, the 8-year-old horse was in extremely bad shape. He was emaciated and had suffered severe frostbite. He was also covered with lice and had a serious case of rain rot, a bacterial skin infection that causes painful scabbing.

A neighbor reported Justice's condition in March 2017. The quarter horse and Appaloosa cross, who had been left for months without adequate food and shelter, was taken in by Sound Equine Options, a rescue and rehabilitation organization, where he received medical treatment to save his life.

In May, Justice became party to a groundbreaking lawsuit suing his former owner "to recover the costs of his ongoing medical care and his pain and suffering," according to The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ADLF), a legal advocacy group for animals that is representing Justice in his lawsuit.

"ALDF decided to represent Justice in this lawsuit not only because of his great need, but also because we felt he could win," ALDF attorney Sarah Hanneken tells MNN. "Oregon has exemplary animal-protection laws, and, given the details of Justice’s situation, we determined he has a strong case under a legal theory called 'negligence per se.'"

According to Hanneken, "Negligence per se is a doctrine that essentially says, 'If you are negligent and break a law resulting in someone getting hurt, the injured person who was protected by that law can sue you.'"

The case is back in the news now because the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case. ADLF expected this, and is fighting to keep the case in court. A hearing will be scheduled to decide the next step.

This is the first time the doctrine has been applied to an animal. If the lawsuit is successful, according to ALDF, it "would be the first to establish that animals have a legal right to sue their abusers in court."

Looking better, but still needing a permanent home

Justice the horse after recovery Justice looks and feels so much better after being cared for by Sound Equine Options, an Oregon nonprofit horse rescue and rehabilitation organization. (Photo: Animal Legal Defense Fund)

Justice’s abuser pled guilty to criminal animal neglect in 2017. In the agreement, she agreed to pay restitution for the cost of Justice's care incurred before July 6, 2017. Because Justice has ongoing medical needs, the lawsuit seeks damages for Justice's care since that date and into the future. Any funds awarded from the lawsuit will be placed in a legal trust established to pay for the horse's care.

It's been about a year and a half since Justice was first discovered, and he's doing much better. He's back to a healthy weight, his skin conditions are mostly healed, and he's learning to socialize with other horses. While he awaits his legal outcome, he also awaits a permanent home. You can find out more at the Sound Equine Options adoptions page.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

A horse named Justice sues his former owner
A neglected horse named Justice is suing his former owner in a groundbreaking animal cruelty case.