A horse dealer from North Wales has the dubious honour of being the first person in the country to face criminal charges for failing to take reasonable equine infection control measures. Details are limited, but he has been charged because he neglected to properly isolate a horse imported from Ireland. (Presumably, the concern was the risk to other horses created by failing to quarantine the imported animal.) People are taking this as a signal that UK enforcement officers may be taking equine infectious diseases and their prevention more seriously.
There are two main areas of infection control in which litigation may play a role, and perhaps the threat of charges or a civil lawsuit is the “stick” that some people need to do things right. One area is, like this case, violation of government regulations, which can result in criminal charges against those whose actions put horses at risk of (primarily foreign) infectious diseases. This is typically going to involve importation of animals, since control of foreign diseases is a major mandate of government organizations. There tends to be less interest in or effort put toward diseases that may be relatively common in the country and among resident horses, despite the major impact many of these diseases can have on the equine population. The other potentially litigious area, one that is potentially great but which hasn’t really been tested yet, is people getting sued in civil court because actions they took (or failed to take) put other horses at risk. A classic situation would be someone who takes a horse from a barn with a strangles outbreak, moves to another facility without any quarantine, and causes a new outbreak. There would be potential for someone to sue for costs of the outbreak and its control, particularly if deliberate disregard for standard protocols could be proven. The hard part is really determining what constitutes the minimum level of precautions individuals can be expected to take, since there are few formal, clear, written guidelines regarding infectious disease control in horses.
Given the increasingly litigious nature of society, and the potentially huge problems with infectious diseases, I’m sure there will come a time when someone tries to sue someone else for causing an infectious disease outbreak. Even if you ultimately win, you don’t want it to be you, so make sure you are being as proactive as possible with infectious disease control.