Lawyers for Black Fence Farm have announced a lawsuit against Western Milling, LLC, the company responsible for manufacturing tainted horse feed that killed or sickened 51 horses boarded at the Clovis-based equestrian facility.
At a press conference Feb. 25 in downtown Fresno, attorney Sean Simpson, of Simpson Law Group, said the plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages for equine death and illness. (Andrew Yaffa, of Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, is also representing the plaintiffs.) The lawsuit was filed Feb. 24 in Fresno Superior Court.
Though he did not specify a dollar amount, Simpson said the owners request “fair and reasonable replacement.”
The lawsuit argues that Western Milling in Goshen was well aware of possible contamination in its feed products. Between Dec. 2009 and July 2010, it alleges, the United States Food and Drug Administration found “impermissibly high” samples of monensin in feed samples produced by the company.
At the time, Simpson said, the company was told to take corrective measures to prevent future cross-contamination.
Katie Flanigan, who owns Black Fence Farm, unknowingly purchased the contaminated product and fed it to the horses in her care — including 21 of her own — in September.
Monensin is an antibiotic used to kill parasites and aid weight gain. It’s used in cattle and poultry feed but is highly toxic to horses, in which it can cause heart and neurological problems. In some cases, symptoms don’t appear until months after exposure, which means even asymptomatic horses can no longer be used for riding.
To date, 51 horses who were boarded at Black Fence Farm and consumed the contaminated feed have become ill. Thirteen have died. In addition, four horses from Temecula-based Ross Equestrian were affected by the contaminated feed, Simpson said. Ross Equestrian has joined Black Fence Farm in the lawsuit.
Dena Amador boarded her two horses at Black Fence Farm until they fell ill. She now cares for them at her Sanger home. “I don’t think this company really understands and really cares what’s going on,” she said. “I have to watch my daughter watch her pony suffer.”
Amador said she would like to see Western Milling take financial responsibility for the losses she and other horse owners have suffered as a result of their negligence. Many owners whose animals were sickened are now bearing the financial burden of caring for the sick animals.
“Financially, the medical bills are outrageous,” she said. “Plus, we need to buy new horses.”
“You get angry because they knew of it, and they could have prevented it,” said Katie Flanigan’s father, Philip Flanigan. “And the majority of the horse (owning) public has no clue.”
Western Milling did not immediately return a call for comment.
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