Tom Selleck added $75,000 in punitive damages to the $187,000 compensation he received for buying a lame horse in a September trial. (See “Court Awards Selleck $187,000 Over Horse Sales Dispute.”) Selleck bought a 10-year-old horse named Zorro for his daughter to ride in amateur competitions.
According to trial lawyer George Knopfler, the seller, Del Mar businesswoman Dolores Cuenca, had Zorro injected with steroids just prior to the pre-purchase exam. Cuenca failed to inform the Sellecks of the injection.
“If we had known that the horse had been injected just a week before the veterinary exam, we would have postponed the examination for at least 30 days,” said Knopfler in an article for The Horse.
Zorro became lame several weeks after the purchase. According to Knopfler, Zorro will never be sound enough to compete, even after months of vet care with the Sellecks.
“The Sellecks kept the horse in a very high-end barn for quite a while after buying him,” he explained. “They didn’t want to be accused of not giving the horse the very best care available. They spent a lot of money on vet care while they were trying to get him sound.”
“We didn’t argue that the general practice of injecting show horses with steroids was unknown to the Sellecks,” Knopfler said. “And we didn’t take a stand on whether the practice was good or bad.”
“This wasn’t an equine law case,” he continued. “This was a fraud case.”
Punitive damages are awarded to punish a defendant for wrongdoing and must show a seller’s intent to deceive the buyer as an element of fraud. The parties agreed to the $75,000 settlement during the start of the second trial.
The Selleck’s compensatory damages—the actual economic damage incurred—included Zorro’s purchase price of $120,000 and another $67,000 for board and veterinary bills.