Owners of animals that cause injury or damage were subjected to prosecution in the England. These animals could belong to a dangerous natured species, to a species that was not all that dangerous, a domesticated species or tame. Owners of animals who had knowledge about the dangerous characteristics of their animals were liable for the legal consequences of the damage or injury caused by them. This situation changed with the introduction of the Animals Act 1971.
Under this act, the appropriate authorities could determine whether the nature of a particular species of animal was dangerous or not.
The law imposes stringent liability on the owners of animals. In the case of non – dangerous species animals the liability imposed is based on the awareness of the owner in respect of the damage the animal could cause. Contributory negligence and assumption of risk are some of the defences available to the owner of animals. The act disallows defences that cite excuses for the damage caused by their animals such as an act of god or the act of a third party.
In the case of Mirvahedy v. Henley, which was heard by the House of Lords in March 2003, it was decided that the owner of an animal was liable for the damage caused by it. In this case, Mirvahedy was travelling home in a car, which was struck by a runaway horse that belonged to Henley. Consequently, Mirvahedy suffered serious injuries and the horse also sustained injuries to which it later succumbed. As such three horses belonging to Henley stampeded on being frightened and this incident occurred in the night. It was acknowledged by the court that such behavior was common amongst horses that had been frightened to the required degree.
In the House of Lords the question raised was whether the keeper of an animal that was not dangerous and which had behaved in a manner that was normal under the circumstances for such an animal, strictly liable for any damage caused by such behaviour. It was held by their Lordships that the manner in which the horses had responded to what had caused them alarm was in no way extraordinary.
Consequently, the circumstances of the case would fall under the purview of subsection 2(2)(b) of the Animal Act 1971. Therefore, the defense of Henley that the horses had behaved in a manner for which he could not be held liable was untenable, because the accident transpired due to the panic stricken behaviour of the horses, which could be construed to be the normal behaviour of horses that had been frightened.
This interpretation of the Animals Act of 1971 resulted in a significant increase in the liability of the owners of animals for the damage caused by these animals. A particular subsection of the act requires the claimant to establish that the cause of the damage was a characteristic of the animal that was normally found in it. Moreover, the next section in that act requires the claimant to demonstrate that the animal’s owner had actual knowledge of such a characteristic of that animal.
However, in the case of Elliot v. Townfoot Stables in which Emma Elliot sustained an injury to her right shoulder and a fracture of the humerus, due to being thrown from the pony that she was riding, the court decided in a markedly different to what had been decided in the Mirvahedy case. The court held that the damage caused to Elliot was not normally expected of a pony.
Moreover, the court held that it could not be reasonable expected that such an injury would have been caused by the pony. The court opined that the very first requirement under Section 2 of the Animal Act 1971, which stated that the damage caused “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” had not been satisfied and thus the claim of Elliot could not be sustained.
In Scotland, dogs are categorised as animals that are likely to cause physical injuries. The Scottish legislation, namely, the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 does not take into consideration the knowledge of the owner or keeper. Under this act, liability will be imposed based on the zoological categorisation of animals and the injuries caused by them. There is a schedule to the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 according to which liability is always imposed on the keeper of animals. The law permits defences like assumption of risk and contributory negligence. Moreover, in England and Scotland the common law of negligence is also applicable.
The legislators ensured that animal owners were made strictly liable for any injury or damage caused by their animals even though the owners were not at fault. In one case the owners of horses were penalized and made to pay substantial compensation for the damage caused by their horses. In this particular instance three horses of a Devon couple went on to the road at night from a field and stampeded on the busy road. One of these horses collided with a car, which resulted in serious injuries to the driver of the car.
The House of Lords held that the owners were responsible to pay compensation in accordance to the Animals Act although they had not been negligent. Under the Animals Act, although an animal is not dangerous, the keeper of such animals has to pay compensation for the damage caused due to behaviour, which despite being uncommon in that species of animal was exhibited either at a specific time or under specific circumstances. The House of Lords found that the escaped horses’ behaviour, although not common in that species, was to be expected if the horses were in a state of panic.
Section 4 of the Animal Act provides liability for damages and expenses incurred due to trespassing livestock. If the livestock of any person wanders off on to land that belongs to another person and if damage is done by such livestock to the land or to any property on it that is owned or possessed by that person, then any expenses that are reasonably incurred by the person to whom the land belongs in keeping the livestock, have to be reimbursed by the person to whom the livestock belongs.
Further, regarding the expenses that are incurred in respect of animals that are detained in pursuance of section 7 of this Act, or in ascertaining as to whom such animals belong; have to be borne by the person to whom the livestock belongs and such a person is liable for the damage caused or expenses incurred, unless this Act specifies some other provision.
There are some exceptions provided by the Act, which are contained in Sections 2 to 4. Some of these exceptions are first; a person is not liable under sections 2 to 4 of the Act for any damage that is wholly the fault of the person who suffered the damage. Second, if the person who suffered from damages or injuries accepts the risk of the damages voluntarily then the owner is not liable for paying damages under section 2.
Third, a person is not liable for damages caused by his animals, which are kept on the premises or structures to a person trespassing there provided, the animal was not kept there for the protection of persons or property or if it was not unreasonable to deploy such animals in that place in order to secure its protection. Fourth, if the livestock was killed or injured by a dog on the land on to which it had strayed and if the dog belonged to the occupier or its presence was authorised by the occupier then section 3 of the Act absolves the owner of liability.
Section 2 of the Animal Act deals with liability for damages caused by dangerous animals, whereas section 4 of the Animals Act deals with liability for damages caused by trespassing livestock. Under section 2(1) of this act, the keeper of an animal that belongs to a dangerous species is liable for damages caused by that animal. Under section 2(2) of this act, the keeper of an animal belonging to a non – dangerous species is liable for damage caused by this animal if it had not been adequately restrained or if the animal was capable of causing severe damage.
Further, the keeper of such an animal was liable if the damage was severe due to the abnormal characteristics of that particular animal, which were in general absent in other animals of that species and were to be found only under some specific circumstances. Moreover, the keeper of an animal is liable for the damage caused by it if he had knowledge regarding such behaviour of the animal. This liability also extends to those who assist the keeper and who are aware of these characteristics of that animal.
Actual knowledge that is required for liability under the Animal Act and it is not sufficient if the keeper did not actually know about the dangerous characteristic of the animal. If an employee who does not have charge of the animal knows about its dangerous propensity, and a minor less than sixteen years of age and who is not a keeper of the animal knows about the dangerous traits of the animal but does not inform the keeper of the animal, are not liable under section 2(2) of the Animal Act. Moreover, knowledge about the dangerous traits of the animals is essential under section 2, whereas under section 4 such knowledge is irrelevant.
Under section 4(1) of the Animal Act, when livestock owned by any person trespass into the land owned by some other person and cause damage to that land or any property belonging to that other person, then the person who owns the livestock is liable for damages or expenses incurred. Under section 4(1)(b) of the Animal Act, the expenses incurred by the other person in keeping the livestock, under circumstances where restoring these animals to their owner is not feasible, have to be reimbursed by the owner of the livestock.
However, under both sections 2 and 4 of the Animal Act, the keeper of livestock or animals is not liable for damages caused due to the fault of the person suffering the damages. Moreover, both these sections deal with the liability of the keeper of the animals in respect of the damage caused by these animals. Furthermore, whether these animals are dangerous, non – dangerous or domesticated liability for damage caused by them arises under certain circumstances as is to be determined by the extant law.
- Animal liability. 2006. In Collins Dictionary of Law August 19, 2007 <http://www.credoreference.com/entry/5978683>
- Elliott v Townfoot Stables; 3 September 2003, Newcastle County Court.
- Mirvahedy (FC) (Respondent) v. Henley and another (Appellants), (2003), UKHL 16, on appeal from (2001) EWCA Civ 1749.
- Mirvahedy v Henley (2003) UKHL 16; (2003) 2 AC 491; (2003) 2 WLR 882.
- Section 2(2), Animal Act 1971.
- Section 2(2)(b) of the Animals Act 1971.
- Section 2(2)(c) of the Animals Act 1971.
- Section 2(2)(a) of the Animal Act 1971.
- SHERWOOD, B., & TAIT, N. Mar 24, 2003. Horse owners to pay for damage on the case; [LONDON 1ST EDITION]. Financial Times, p16.
 Animal liability. 2006. In Collins Dictionary of Law August 19, 2007 <http://www.credoreference.com/entry/5978683>
 Mirvahedy (FC) (Respondent) v. Henley and another (Appellants), (2003), UKHL 16, on appeal from (2001) EWCA Civ 1749.
 Mirvahedy v Henley (2003) UKHL 16; (2003) 2 AC 491; (2003) 2 WLR 882.
 Section 2(2)(b) of the Animals Act 1971.
 Section 2(2)(c) of the Animals Act 1971.
 Section 2(2)(a) of the Animal Act 1971.
 Elliott v Townfoot Stables; 3 September 2003, Newcastle County Court.
 Animal liability. 2006. In Collins Dictionary of Law August 19, 2007 <http://www.credoreference.com/entry/5978683>
 SHERWOOD, B., & TAIT, N. Mar 24, 2003. Horse owners to pay for damage on the case; [LONDON 1ST EDITION]. Financial Times , 16.
 SHERWOOD, B., & TAIT, N. (Mar 24, 2003). Horse owners to pay for damage on the case; [LONDON 1ST EDITION]. Financial Times , 16.