“Standing” for Animals

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF's Executive Director on July 2, 2007

The biggest difficulty animal advocates face in helping animals get their day in court is "standing." Simply put, legal standing is a person’s right or ability to sue. For a "person" under the law to have standing it must prove three things which are, again, in very simple terms: (1) that you have been "injured," (2) that the injury was caused by the action of the defendant for which you are suing, (3) and that the court has the ability to redress the injury to you with a favorable decision. But, back to that first little detail, you must be a "person."

I used the word "it" to describe a person on purpose because while most of us think of a person as an individual human, U.S. courts have granted personhood to nonhuman entities that are the subject of legal rights and duties. A few examples of such recognized "legal persons" are corporations, ships, estates, and political parties.

Animals, however, are considered "things" by the law and they are classified in every state as property, much like a desk or a chair. And, like a desk or chair, an animal cannot bring a lawsuit or have one brought for them by a person as is the case, for example, with children. That means to sue for an injury to an animal, such as one that has been injured or killed, animal advocates generally have to prove injury to a person. An example would be to sue for harm done to a human person by witnessing abuse. Sadly, without such proof of injury to "persons" the courts can, and do, simply dismiss a case without ever hearing the facts of the abuse or injury.

There are exceptions to these limitations where the law has granted animals specific legal protections, like our criminal anti-cruelty laws. But where there are not such specific protections it can be very difficult for an animal, no matter how abused, to get their day in court.

One day, hopefully, animals will have more opportunities to be represented in courts so that we can more effectively fight the many injustices they face – perhaps as another kind of recognized "legal person." In the meantime we must be resourceful and creative in bringing lawsuits to win justice for animals.

One thought on ““Standing” for Animals

  1. Alison Kruk says:

    Yes, animals need to have at least as much legal protection as human “minors”, so that we can designate them as beneficiaries in our wills, and defend their basic rights to things like: safety, food, shelter….thank you for all ALDF does to get us to that vision.

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