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Pet Liability

If you have a pet, you should be aware that you have the potential to cause harm and misery to others if you do not rein in its behaviour. But how far does your responsibility extend when it comes to the actions of an owned animal?

Pet owners not fulfilling their duties in relation to other people can cause significant misery for others. Pets can cause nuisance, intimidation and damage to property. Dog faeces can lead to infections and misery to the social wellbeing of an environment.

The majority of pet related complaints consist of:

  • Fouling of footpaths and grass
  • Non-stop barking
  • Intimidation

Dogs making mess and nuisance were given as the most common problems in people's local living environment as reported in the 2002 British Crime Survey. There were 2,546 reports of problems to do with animals in a survey carried out in just one day in 2003.

Dog fouling legislation

Local laws like the Dog (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 have been employed to encourage better behaviour in owners of dogs. In 2006 the Dog (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 was superseded by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 and replaced by the Dog Control orders.

Responsibility for injuries from pets

Pet liability changed momentously after a 2003 legal case in the House of Lords when it extended the circumstances in which an owner of an animal can be vulnerable to paying damages to humans injured. From this point in time it has increased the importance of public liability cover in respect to animals.

Cause célèbre

Previously people were protected by from paying damages by being able to prove they were not negligent. However in the Mirvahedy v Henley case of 2003, despite the Henleys being cleared of negligence, Mr Mirvahedy claimed that even if they were not negligent they were still liable to him because the 1971 Animals Act made the Henleys strictly liable for the damage caused (in this case a frightened horse escaping a paddock and being involved in a car accident) by their horse. This means that they were liable without any fault on their part.

Animals Act 1971

The Animals Act 1971 was meant to make the law relating to liability for what animals do less complicated.

Section 2 of the Act put animals in one of two categories, a dangerous species or a non-dangerous species.

Dangerous species

Section 2(1) made the animal of a dangerous species strictly liable for any damage created by it even if the owner had taken every effort to stop the damage. This is perfectly understandable if considering a wolf or bear, but horses are not a dangerous species.

Non-dangerous species

Section 2(2) says ''Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this Act, if

  • (a) the damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and
  • (b) the likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances; and
  • (c) those characteristics were known to that keeper ''

The House of Lords decided that the Henleys were liable for the damage created by their animal because horses are not normally panicked and that the characteristic of panic is only normal in certain circumstances.

This decision extended the circumstances under which owners of animals will be liable for damage caused by their animals acting completely naturally in particular situations without being their fault. It disregards how negligence should be the first stage of liability where animals that aren’t dangerous animals are concerned.

Personal injury claims are becoming more and more prevalent. Therefore it is vital to have public liability cover, despite the costs.