Compensation for Dead Horse Includes Lost Breeders' Awards

A Texas lawsuit seeking compensation for the death of a 2-year-old gelding in a van accident also broke new legal ground.

After months of legal wrangling, Jim and Helen Widener of Irving, Texas, were awarded $65,000 as compensation for the death of their Texas-bred gelding I Stole the Wish in July 1998. The settlement, which included $10,000 for lost state breeders' awards, is believed to be the first time that a United States court officially recognized and placed a value on a state Thoroughbred breeding program.

The case could go a long way toward setting a meaningful precedent throughout the U.S.

"We knew going in that it would cost more to make the case than we would get out of it," said Widener, whose attorney fees totaled approximately $26,000 for the case. "But we wanted to make some laws. This is the first case I know of in the horse business that addresses these issues. The fact we were able to get the (accredited Texas-bred) awards recognized is a step in the right direction."

On July 24, 1998, the Wideners were having I Stole the Wish transported from Trinity Meadows to Retama Park to run in a prep race for the Friendship Stakes. During the trip, a Fort Worth city bus rear-ended the van at a high rate of speed, causing the van to dislodge from its hitch and crash into a concrete wall.

The van was so badly damaged that it took five hours to free the gelding from the reckage. I Stole the Wish broke his back in the accident and was humanely destroyed.

The Fort Worth transit authority -- technically not a city agency but a municipal authority contracted by the city to provide public transit -- allegedly admitted fault and attempted to compensate the Wideners, but the two parties couldn't agree on a fair price.

I Stole the Wish had run just once (he finished 10th in a trial for the 1998 TTA Sale Futurity), and he could have been claimed for $21,000 had he run at Retama.

The claiming price, however, did not represent the gelding's only value, according to Jim Widener, who is an attorney. He said the issue was the value of the horse versus the replacement of the property, and I Stole the Wish's value included lost breeders' awards that could have been expected during the gelding's career.

"Our mission with this case was to establish replacement value for a Texas-bred horse," Widener said. "Quite frankly, oftentimes we made more money (from our homebreds) after we sold them. Claiming a horse is not the same as killing a horse."

After more than two years of negotiating, the case was settled before it was scheduled to go to trial in January 2001. Under terms of the settlement, the Wideners will be paid $65,000 for the loss of their gelding.

The settlement specifically states that the sum "includes $55,000 for the value of the loss of the horse ... as well as $10,000 for the value of potential breeders awards lost under the Texas-bred program."