ANTHONY VENDRELLA et al. v. ASTRIAB FAMILY LIMITED PARTNERSHIP et al., SC 18949
Judicial District of New Haven
Negligence; Domestic Animals; Whether a Horse Belongs to a Species so Naturally Inclined to do Mischief or Be Vicious to Humans that the Plaintiff's Injuries Were Reasonably Foreseeable. The plaintiff parents brought this action on behalf of their minor son seeking to recover for injuries the boy sustained when he was bitten by a horse named Scuppy at the defendants' place of business. The defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law because they had neither actual nor constructive notice that Scuppy had a vicious disposition or propensities. The trial court granted their motion, finding that the defendants owed no duty to the plaintiffs because the plaintiffs failed to make the necessary showing that Scuppy, and not horses in general, had a tendency to bite people or other horses. The Appellate Court (133 Conn. App. 630) reversed, finding that the evidence presented raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants had notice of Scuppy's tendency to bite. The Appellate Court cited Bischoff v. Cheney, 89 Conn. 1 (1914), as instructing that a negligence claim concerning an injury inflicted by a domestic animal involves inquiry not only into whether the possessor knew that the specific animal in question was vicious, but also into whether the animal belongs to a class with dangerous propensities. It thus found that the requisite notice may be established by proof of the natural propensities of a species and therefore that the trial court improperly concluded that the plaintiffs were required to show that Scuppy, and not horses in general, possessed a natural tendency to bite. The Appellate Court noted that the plaintiffs consistently maintained that Scuppy is a domestic animal that possesses a dangerous propensity normal to its class and that the defendants were required to exercise a degree of care over Scuppy commensurate with the animal's character. Moreover, it stated that the defendants were required to know the characteristics of the species and its normal habits and tendencies, and it found that they had a duty to realize that even ordinarily gentle animals are likely to be dangerous under particular circumstances and therefore to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm. It next determined that the pleadings, affidavits and other proof submitted raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants had notice that Scuppy belonged to a class of domestic animal that possessed a natural propensity to bite, thereby endangering invitees such as the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court will now consider whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that a horse belongs to a species so naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious to human beings that the minor plaintiff's injuries were reasonably foreseeable, regardless of whether the particular horse has shown a prior vicious disposition known to the keeper.