A group of horse owners in Australia are suing the government for its role in the 2007 equine influenza (EI) outbreak, which affected thousands of equestrian businesses — including that of Badminton winner Jock Paget.

The disease devastated the equestrian and racing industries that year, infecting around 70,000 horses on 9,000 properties.

Australian law firm Maurice Blackburn filed a suit in Sydney on behalf of 550 clients on
15 May, for losses arising from the outbreak.

The action alleges that government negligence caused the outbreak, after the virus escaped from the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station near Sydney and spread across eastern Australia.

“There are still hundreds of people struggling to recover from the fifnancial losses they suffered in 2007,” said Damian Scattini, a lawyer with Maurice Blackburn.

“They deserve to be compensated — many have had to restart their entire lives’ work from scratch.”

A public enquiry in 2008 found there were “systematic failures” across Australia’s quarantine systems, he added.

Before the outbreak, Australia was free of equine influenza and horses were not vaccinated against the disease.

Badminton winner Jock Paget, who was living in Queensland in 2007, said the outbreak “grounded all equestrian activity”.

He believes the original infected horses should never have been permitted entry to the country. Four Japanese racing stallions were admitted to Eastern Creek, shortly after an EI outbreak in Japan.

“It took a year to get back to normal,” Jock told H&H.

“I was lucky, because the lack of competition in Australia meant I ended up taking a great job in New Zealand, but for other businesses it was devastating. They have to be compensated.”

A spokesman for the company funding the lawsuit would not reveal the exact level of damages being claimed.

But he confirmed: “It will be in the hundreds of millions.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (30 May 2013)