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'Hatfields & McCoys' actor sues for injuries, alleged horse abuse

The award-winning History Channel mini-series "Hatfields & McCoys" was set in the late 1800s on the West Virginia/Kentucky border, but it was filmed in Romania. Unlike the members of the historic feuding families, of course, the actors weren't necessarily expert horseback riders. It's customary, therefore, for production companies to provide riding instruction and gentle, well-trained horses.

The actor who played Jim McCoy in the series says he was assured of that, but instead he got only minimal training before being set on the back of an abused horse that eventually threw and injured him.

While shooting in the Snagov Forest north of Bucharest, the actor claims, he and others witnessed repeated instances of neglect and mistreatment of horses on the set. Days before the accident, he says, he told producers that his horse had visible injuries to its face and head and was unfit to ride. The producers, however, allegedly ordered him to continue as usual.

Unsurprisingly, the horse panicked during a scene, bolted, and threw the actor into a tree, leaving him with serious and permanent injuries. To add insult to those injuries, the production company’s insurers refused to fully pay his medical bills, other expenses and contract benefits.

He recently filed suit against the show’s two production companies for reckless misconduct, breach of faith and fair dealing and premises liability, among other claims, seeking full compensation for his injuries and distress.

His allegations of horse mistreatment, if true, would represent yet another sad chapter in Hollywood’s long history of animal abuse. Unfortunately, there may be few real consequences to the producers if they hired contract wranglers abroad.

According to the Michigan State University College of Law's Animal Legal & Historical Center, there are two main protections for animals in the entertainment industry. The first is the federal Animal Welfare Act, which requires those who rent animals to be licensed and to treat their animals humanely -- but it only applies in the U.S.  The second is the Animal Humane Society’s monitoring of all Screen Actors Guild productions, which offers the end-credit disclaimer “No Animals Were Harmed.”

The actor’s allegations would certainly support a legitimate claim for injury compensation, but the Superior Court in LA will have to determine whether the insurers fully paid it. Yet performers need to be able to work, and they have the right to protect their talent through litigation, if necessary.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “'Hatfields & McCoys' Series Abused Horses, Actor Says,” Matt Reynolds, Nov. 11, 2013

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