Injuries caused by animals

04 Mar 2013

Personal injury claims can arise from many different types of accidents e.g. accidents at work, road traffic accidents, medical negligence, head injury and spinal injury cases. One more unusual type of case which our personal injury team deals with is claims for injuries caused by animals. Animals, and in particular large animals such as horses, can cause catastrophic injuries.

If someone is injured as a result of the behaviour of an animal then a civil claim for damages for personal injury can often be brought against the keeper of the animal.

Liability for injuries caused by animals is largely governed by the Animals Act 1971.  The Act makes the important distinction between dangerous and non-dangerous species of animals.  A ‘dangerous’ animal is defined under the terms of the Act as one which is not commonly domesticated in the British Isles and whose characteristics are likely to cause severe damage or injury.  A lion or an elephant, for example, would fall into this category, as would many animals commonly housed at zoos.  Injuries caused by such dangerous animals can give rise to a claim against the registered keeper and awards of compensation/damages under the principle of strict liability.

If a person is injured by an animal which does not fall into the classification of a ‘dangerous species’ under the Act, such as a dog or a horse, then it is possible to bring a claim for damages providing the following criteria are satisfied:

  • the damage/injury is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause;
  • the likelihood of the damage was due to characteristics of the animal which are not commonly found in animals of that species, or are only found at particular times or circumstances;
  • those characteristics were known to the keeper or to the person in control of/responsible for the animal.

In applying this criteria, a person who has been kicked by a horse which had not been controlled by its keeper, can recover damages for their injuries providing it is proved that the horse had a tendency to kick out at others (or was known to behave aggressively in certain situations) and that its keeper was aware of these characteristics.

If you have a potential claim it is advisable to seek legal advice as soon as possible because the rules which govern the funding of personal injury claims will change in April 2013.