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Liability for Accidents Caused by Animals – Court of Appeal Test Case

cow in fieldWinning compensation following an accident requires proof of negligence – but there are very rare exceptions to that rule and one of them concerns the legal liabilities of animal owners. In a Court of Appeal case, a motorist who was badly injured in a collision with a bullock won the right to damages from a farmer, although there had been no lack of care on the latter’s part.

The bullock had been bought at auction the day before the accident. It managed to jump a six-foot fence, despite weighing the best part of half a ton, and careered onto a trunk road about a mile and a half away. The animal died in the ensuing collision and the motorist’s car was severely damaged. There was no suggestion that he was in any way to blame for the accident, of which he had no memory due to traumatic amnesia, and his lawyers claimed £50,000 in damages on his behalf.

Following a trial, a judge cleared the farmer of negligence. He had followed the book in feeding and watering the bullock overnight before letting it out into the field. The fence was entirely appropriate and his care of the animal had been impeccable. There was nothing inherently dangerous about the bullock, which had shown surprising athleticism in jumping the fence.

The farmer had died since the accident, but his estate was found liable to compensate the motorist under the Animals Act 1971. That was on the basis that the damage caused was of a kind that such a large animal was likely to cause unless restrained. As an experienced beef farmer, he would have been aware that cattle of the breed concerned tended to behave wholly unpredictably when frightened. The amount of the motorist’s compensation remains to be assessed.

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