Rule 1: By the common law the owners or keepers of domestic animals are not answerable for an injury done by them in a place where they have a right to be, unless the animals in fact, and to the owner's knowledge, are vicious. If, however, a person keeps a vicious or dangerous animal that he knows is accustomed to attack and injure mankind, he assumes the obligation of an insurer against injury by such animal, and no measure of care in its keeping will excuse him. His liability is founded upon the keeping of such an animal when he has knowledge of its vicious propensities and his care or negligence is immaterial. In an action for an injury caused by such an animal, the plaintiff has only to allege and prove the keeping, the vicious propensities, and the scienter. Negligence is not the ground of liability and need not be alleged or proved. This rule of liability of keepers of domestic animals finds its origin in the ancient common law and, except as modified by statute in case of injuries by dogs, is retained as the rule of law in this class of cases in this state.
Rule 2: In Maine, the contributory negligence doctrine has not been accepted and contributory negligence in the strict sense of that term cannot be held to constitute a defense to an action. Exclusion of negligence as the basis of liability forbids the inclusion of contributory negligence as a defense. Something more than slight negligence or want of due care on the part of the injured party must be shown in order to relieve the keeper of a vicious domestic animal known to be such from his liability as an insurer.
Plaintiff victim had gone into a neighbor's pasture to grain his mare and, while so doing, was kicked by defendant horse owner's horse and was seriously injured. Plaintiff alleged that the horse was ugly and vicious and that defendant knew of such propensities yet permitted such horse to run at large in a pasture where the injury occurred. A verdict of $ 1,008.42 was rendered for plaintiff and defendant filed a general motion for a new trial.
Issue 1: Was defendant horse owner entitled to a motion for new trial after a jury found in favor of plaintiff victim in plaintiff's action to recover damages for personal injuries resulting from being kicked by a horse owned and kept by defendant?
Issue 2: Did the plaintiff victim’s acts or omissions constitute contributory negligence?
1.No.; 2. No.
Conclusion 1: The evidence established that the horse had exhibited a vicious and ugly disposition at various times prior to the day on which victim was injured and notice of the animal's vicious propensities had been brought home to owner.
Conclusion 2: The prima facie case against defendant horse owner, established by the evidence, was not rebutted by plaintiff victim's acts or omissions, and it could not be said that plaintiff voluntarily put himself in a way to be injured by defendant's horse, knowing the probable consequences of his act. Therefore, defendant was liable, as found by the jury.