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Damage Liability and Horses

Injuries inflicted by a horse could mean a compensation claim must be paid out by its owner. Find out more about liability for personal injury caused by a horse today.

Horse owners can be responsible for damage caused by their horses and therefore liable to pay compensation for that damage both at common law and under statute.

Common law liability

A horse owner is liable at common law for any damage which is caused by a horse he owns where that damage is due to the horse owner’s own negligence. This might be the case where a horse owner keeps aggressive horses in a field through which a public right of way runs, or fails to provide adequate warnings about horses which are known to be dangerous.

A horse owner can also be liable in the tort of nuisance where he allows horses to escape onto his neighbour’s property. For example, this might be the case where a horse owner fails to keep his horses properly secured and allows them to roam freely. In this scenario, the owner will be responsible if the horses enter his neighbour’s land and cause damage to the property.

Statutory liability

The Animals Act 1971 contains, amongst other things, provisions about the civil liability of owners for damage which is done by their animals. This act governs owner’s liability for damage caused both by dangerous and non-dangerous animals. In the case of non dangerous animals, the owner will be liable for damage where three conditions are met:

  1. The damage is of a type which the animal would be likely to do if it was unrestrained;
  2. The damage was due to characteristics which were not normally found in that type of animal, or which were found in that type of animal only at specific times and in specific circumstances;
  3. The special characteristics were known to the owner

This act is unusual in that unlike many other acts of parliament which impose liability on people, it does not limit this liability to situations in which that person is careless or reckless, or where he fails to take reasonable steps to prevent the risk. This was considered by the House of Lords in 2003, which decided by a two to one majority that in the absence of any such provisions, the act must be interpreted as imposing a strict liability on the owners of horses.

Strict liability is a problem for horse owners, because it means that even if they have taken all reasonably precautions to prevent the risk of damage from materialising, they may still be legally responsible for that damage under the Act.

The 2003 House of Lords decision also made it clear that ‘panic’ was to be considered a special characteristic which is only found in horses under certain circumstances. It therefore follows that where horses are spooked and stampede in panic, the owner may well be liable for any damage caused. This makes it very difficult for horse owners to defend personal injury claims, and if you find yourself in this situation you should consult a specialist equine law solicitor.

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