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Truro-area racehorse owners lose civil lawsuit involving pregnant filly

Horses behind the gate at Truro Raceway as a race is about to begin.
Horses behind the gate at Truro Raceway as a race is about to begin. - File Photo

A civil lawsuit over the sale of a yearling standardbred filly that turned out to be pregnant has concluded in favour of the defendant, Shawn Putnam.

The lawsuit was launched by Truro-area racehorse owners Emmons MacKay and Paul Smith, after purchasing Putnam’s Snowstorm at an auction in P.E.I for $10,000 in October 2017.

The claimants – MacKay and Smith – had sought more than $95,000 in damages, including the purchase price, for perceived loss in stakes race earnings and expenses related to general expenses and others specific to the pregnant state of the filly.

“Unbeknownst to them, the filly was pregnant and would be unable to race for most of the 2018 harness racing season,” court adjudicator Eric Slone said, in his written decision. “She gave birth to a foal some nine months after the auction, which meant that she was two months pregnant at the time the Claimants bought her. It follows logically that she became pregnant while still living in Nova Scotia with her original owner and breeder, the Defendant.

In their claim, MacKay and Smith sued for breach of contract and negligence because they said Putnam should not have exposed the filly to any stallions, thereby creating the risk of pregnancy. They further said Putnam should have known the filly was possibly in foal and that it was a breach of contract to sell a pregnant filly to buyers who were “clearly buying her for her potential at the racetrack.”

According to the written decision, however, Putnam stated during the hearing that the filly was only exposed briefly and unintentionally to a couple of her male stable mates and that there were no signs that any act of mating had occurred.

Putnam further stated he had thought the filly was too young to mate, had shown no indication of going into heat and that he saw no “telltale” signs that any “shenanigans” had taken place.”

Slone said Putnam admitted to being “floored” when he learned he filly was pregnant, however, and that he felt “morally” responsible.

But when it became clear that he and the claimants could not agree on a fair compensation “he has reluctantly” fallen back on his legal rights.

The claimants contended they had purchased the filly because her bloodlines indicated she had potential as a race contender and they began training her to race during the 2018 season.

Between six and seven months before the 2018 race season was set to begin, however, the filly began showing physical signs of being pregnant, which was soon confirmed when a foal was born.

“While an additional horse might in some situations be considered a plus, this particular colt has no commercial value because it is not a standardbred,” Slone wrote.

And under applicable horse auction law in P.E.I., Slone said, it is the buyer’s responsibility to know what the rules are, and in this case, the warranty on such sales is limited to seven days.

“In my opinion, the intent of the sales contract could hardly be clearer,” Slone said. “Such warranties as there are last a mere seven days. It would be unreasonable, in my opinion, for a court to attempt to torture the language into meaning something different or, at least, something ambiguous such that the court could ignore it.”

He suggested that Putnam’s Snowstorm still has earning potential and that the claimants will have an opportunity to recoup some of their loss.

“In the result, I cannot find any principled basis to imply a warranty that is not defeated by the clear language in the contract of sale,” Slone said. “I am sympathetic to the Claimants and would have provided a remedy if there were a clear legal basis to do so.

The case was ultimately dismissed in favour of Putnam.

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