Major Ruling on Liability for Escaped Equines

29 October 2022

The owner of an animal that escapes onto a public highway and causes an accident will not always be strictly liable for that animal’s actions, a new judgment from the High Court makes clear. The outcome of a recent high court case has changed the view of liability for horse owners in the event that their equine causes an accident. The recent case has ruled that the owner of an equine- who escaped their paddock and collided with a vehicle on a major road causing serious injury- was an “innocent party”. 

It was previously understood that regardless of how or why a horse got out, the owner/custodian is responsible for property damage (and perhaps even personal injury) caused by the horse. But in this case, the judgment confirmed that under the Animals Act 1971, claimants needed to demonstrate that an animal was displaying ‘an abnormal characteristic’ such as fright or panic in order to claim successfully under the Act.

Clare Garnett, a partner with Clyde & Co who represented the horse owner in the case, said: “This judgment is particularly encouraging for both animal owners and their insurers. What it means is the mere fact that your horse or animal escaped from a commercial facility such as a stable in which you had confidence, does not automatically render you liable if it is then involved in an accident on the highway.

“If animals such as cows, dogs, foxes or deer are found to be on the road and cause an accident by the mere result of them being there, claimants will no longer have a smooth route to recovery in law. What this judgment makes clear is that it is all about the circumstances leading to the accident, including the behaviours of the animals and any external stimulus acting upon them.

“Importantly, this case reiterates the importance of insurance for horse and livestock owners.”

This also reiterates a point of ensuring that any livery yard you choose is adequately insured and that any fencing and grazing land is well maintained to a high standard to prevent any such issues from arising where possible.

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