by Alison Rowe, Esq.
Anyone can file a lawsuit; the question is whether you can win the lawsuit and collect the judgment. If you are a potential plaintiff in a horse case – needing some guidance to determine whether your horse case is worth pursuing – ask yourself if the case satisfies five elements: Money, Damages, Liability, Causation, and Credibility.
Money. Our civil justice system is not about revenge or even justice, it’s about money, because money is virtually the only way a civil court can compensate a plaintiff. Potential plaintiffs need to consider how much money it would take to pursue the case versus the potential amount they can actually recover from the defendant. As a general rule of thumb, the amount in controversy needs to be at least $25,000 to make it worth engaging counsel to prosecute a civil case. In many cases, plaintiffs will not be awarded their attorneys’ fees even if they win the case. The potential defendant needs to either have an insurance policy that would apply to the potential claims or otherwise have assets that are not exempt from attachment on a judgment.
Damages. In a good horse case, a plaintiff can prove the defendant damaged them and can put a dollar amount on the damages. If the plaintiff cannot quantify their damages, the lawyer usually cannot either. Expert witnesses can sometimes be hired (usually at the client’s expense) to figure out what the damages are. But sometimes, after spending money on an expert, clients don’t like the answer the expert comes up with. Therefore, the best cases are those where the amount of damages is fairly simple to quantify.
Liability. A good horse case is one where it can be proven that the defendant is liable for the damages that the plaintiff incurred. For a defendant to be liable, a plaintiff needs to be able to prove that the defendant either breached the terms of an agreement with the plaintiff, or was liable in tort to plaintiff (common torts in horse cases include negligence, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty).
Causation. The plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant’s actionable conduct caused the money damages identified by the plaintiff. The plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendants’ actions, and not some other person or event, caused the damages complained of. In the best cases, the plaintiff can pinpoint the person or entity that damaged them, and can explain what the defendant did or failed to do that ultimately caused the damages.
Credibility. The credibility of a plaintiff is often the most important element of a horse case. Does your story pass the “smell test”? Put your emotions aside for a moment and ask yourself whether your demands are reasonable given the applicable customs and conventions as they currently exist in the horse industry. I recommend talking to others who have played the defendant’s role (i.e. veterinarian, horse trainer) about your case. If those who have been in the defendant’s shoes before agree with your position, chances are your story will be credible to a jury.
Hopefully these five criteria help you make a more informed decision before you pursue the legal route.