can/should we take legal action?
Please read the following information and let me know if you think we can or should take legal action, and, if so, if you have any tips about how to go about it. (I've never sought legal action for anyone/anything)
I had my two horses boarded at a moderately large facility in PA for about a year. The barn owner, we'll call him James for discretion, was extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and despite my preference for self care, I agreed to do full care, feeling comfortable with him and his facility.
Yesterday I get a phone call from my friend who also boarded her horses at the facility saying that I needed to leave work and get to the barn, there was an emergency. Upon arriving, I talked to a woman who claimed to be the owner of the property. She says that while James was renting the property from her, he did not own it, and she had been posting eviction notices for the past two months (which he was promptly tearing down) as he hadn't paid her a dime for 18 months. She told us we had 24 hours to remove or stuff and horse, everything else was going to auction. She had James forcibly removed from the property earlier that day and, mistakenly, had assumed all the horses on the farm to be his (she was unaware he had made it into a public boarding facility.) I know that legally she has no right to do anything with my horses as I do not owe her anything, but as I said she had assumed that the horses must all belong to James.
While we removed the horses and our belongings from the property and they are now safe, a couple more problems surfaced: First of all, we were able to contact James but he is (as expected) reluctant to refund the boarding fees we paid for this month, (not to mention the expense of transport off the farm, etc). Secondly, we were informed that our horses had been starved for the past four months. While we were aware of weight loss, James had convinced us it was a toxicity issue from de-worming medication. He even had published vet articles that described their conditions, but, as it turns out, it was a bunch of BS so he wouldn't need to buy much hay/grain.
What I want to know is, if the group of boarders who are now struggling to find boarding stables and are out of $500-$1500 a pop (not to mention vet bills, etc for our malnourished horses that we have been misdiagnosing for four months) would be right to attempt to file a class action lawsuit.
Any information is appreciated, I don't know much about the legal system and what we are entitled too. I'm not trying to make a buck, but I am trying to keep this terrible incident from draining my bank account while he skips off into the sunset with our money. (Just an FYI: this guy who seemed so very in love with his horses was given the option to come and pick them up, and instead he gave instructions for them all to be sent to the New Holland Auction where meat buyers are way more common then private buyers, including two mares that are pregnant and about the foal and one with a 1 week old colt at her side.)
I think that something like this should be discussed with a lawyer who is familiar with your laws and how the civil court system works in your area. They could certainly give you a better idea of whether or not you have a case than a bunch of people on the internet who don't live anywhere close to you.
1. You would not be a class (at least it is incredibly unlikely that you would be). You would be a group of plaintiff's who either have individual lawyers or waive conflict and get the same lawyer.
2. There might not even be a high enough dollar amount in "damages" for you to sue him anywhere but small claims.
3. If you are talking about damages of less than 2,000/ person, you will lose more money on attorneys fees than it is worth (2,000 will get you less than 10 hours worth of work)
4. You can't get blood from a turnip. This guy is already insolvent because he is being evicted. Should you get a judgment, the chance of you recovering any money would be pretty low. Again, plan to spend more money for collecting than it is worth.
5. Half your case is pretty hard to prove. The horses lost weight and you noticed it, but let it continue and believed the crap about dewormer for that long. They now have large vet bills because of it - well first you likely have some sort of duty to mitigate, meaning that allowing a horse to be knowingly sick for a long period of time without seeking *veterinary* care makes you partially at fault. It sounds mean, and I'm sure he had a good line of BS, but ultimately you are responsible for your animals health, unless very specifically contracted otherwise.
6. You probably have a decent claim to a prorated refund of board, but for all the reasons above, it likely won't be worth your headache.
If after all of that, it's the principle of the matter, go down to your local county or district courthouse, or check their website and get the small claims court forms. The clerk's aren't allowed to help you fill them out, but they can explain the procedure and instructions as well as tell you the fees. It would probably be best if everyone who wants to be in on this bands together and fills out the forms as multiple plaintiffs because you will probably only have to pay one filing fee.
None of that is legal advice, just my 2 cents worth of common sense.
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Dont know about your state, but here you can actually file a judgement against whatever property he may own. (If he owns anything of value ie: land/home the courthouse would have a record) You may not get anything now, but if he ever sells the property you have attached a judgement against, he has to pay you first. However, you really need an attorney to handle this type of thing. PATHETIC!!
I don't know what to tell you about your situation, other than I am sorry it happened to you. But if you are in Lancaster county, rather than Lancaster, I know a cheap barn with openings if your friends have not found board yet. It's in Birdsboro PA, send me a private message if you are interested.
It's not my barn, but my previous one, and the owner is a friend.
For 4 months you didn't realize your horses were undernourished??? seriously?? You didn't think of getting a vet to look at them, you took a stranger's word for what was wrong with your horses as fact? A stranger who in no way was a certified vet, no background check was done on the stable to see if it was reputable? And now you want to sue.. hmm well idk what to even say to your post lol.
Thank you all for the advice, I and the others involved have had time to calm down and step back from the situation and agree, not only can you not get blood from a turnip but we'd rather this all just be behind us and not drag it out further, we have however reported him to the humane league law enforcement.
I wasn't going to respond to Katze's comment at first but I think everyone else who posted helpful advice is probably also thinking the same kind of thing in the back of your head so I have no problem explaining further. I had been at this stable for almost a year before this whole thing started, so this man was by no means a stranger I had, in fact, done research on the stable and him before moving my horses there and the worst thing anyone had to say about the man was that he drove a hard bargain when buying a horse off them. For almost a year I interacted with him and witnessed not only his knowledge and "way" with horses but the way others revered his opinion and training skills. This man fooled many, many people into believing him. His lies were as detailed as they were numerous and he never seemed to falter with them. I never had a reason not to trust him. So, when he came to me with articles straight from a vet journal detailing the same symptoms we were seeing in our horses and this journal claimed the reasoning to be toxicity in worming medication, it made sense. Had we not wormed them regularly, and then additionally when they originally started to lose weight? They were placed on probiotics and showed signs of improvement, perhaps because it helped them digest what little feed they were given, perhaps because he fed them more for a while to keep our questions at bay. I know in my case, it was a little of both. I was so appalled by my younger mares condition that I was down every day checking on her and working with her. Of course every time I showed up he was sure to throw extra hay her way. Should I have called a vet out at that point? Yes, but I saw immediate improvement and thought the rest of the weight would just take time. Again, I and 10-15 other boarders (most of them also experienced horse people) trusted him. Trust me, you can not judge me or blame me more than I do myself. I hate that my girls were put through this more than you can imagine. I take full responsibility as their owner for making the wrong choices, not matter the circumstances. It's easy to sit on one side of the computer and judge the clips of a story you read online, it's a whole different matter to live those stories.
If you are after just a refund of 1-2 months boarding and relocation expenses, go to Small Claims Court. In PA, I think the max. amount is $1600. Each of you should file separately. No lawyers are involved. The county courthouse can provide you all the paperwork and instructions.
You definitely need to report the starvation to the Humane Society. Not a lot they can do to correct the past, but they can help prevent a reoccurrence somewhere else.
I can also recommend a good stable in Reading. BH used it when we lived up there and is friends with the owners.
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