In what could be a groundbreaking move for animal rights, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an abused horse named Justice in order to cover the costs of his continued medical care. If the case is successful, it would be the first time in history that animals have won the legal right to sue the people that hurt them.

“Horses, like Justice, are intelligent animals with the capacity for rich emotional lives,” says Stephen Wells, Executive Director for ALDF. “Oregon law already recognizes Justice’s right to be free from cruelty – this lawsuit simply expands the remedies available when abusers violate animals’ legal rights.”

Justice, an eight-year-old Quarter Horse/Appaloosa cross, suffered severe neglect at the hands of his former caretaker, who left him abandoned without food or shelter for months. When he was finally handed over to Sound Equine Options, a horse rescue organisation in Oregon, Justice was suffering from extreme malnutrition, a prolapsed penis resulting from frostbite, lice and rain rot. He is now facing lifelong physical and psychological complications as a result of this mistreatment, that will see him needing special medical care for the rest of his life. Because of these issues and the cost of caring for him, it will be difficult to find a forever home for this beautiful horse.

“He was extremely emaciated – about 300 pounds below body weight for a horse,” said Matthew Liebman, Justice’s lawyer from ALDF. “Most significantly, he suffered from penile frostbite as a result of his exposure to the cold and that was left untreated for months.”

Justice’s abuser pled guilty to criminal animal neglect charges last year, agreeing to cover the costs of  his care up until July 6,2017. This lawsuit is aiming to obtain damages from this date and onward into the future.

ALDF say that any compensation granted to Justice as a result of the lawsuit would be saved in a legal trust that is set up to pay for his future. They are asking for more than $100,000.

“The Oregon legislature and courts have been a leader in recognizing that animals are sentient beings that occupy a unique position in the law,” said ADLF in a statement. “However, existing laws still lag far behind our current understanding of animal sentience by classifying animals as property.”