The judgment of the Court retains the responsibility of the owners of horses: Clyde & Co

The owner of an animal that escapes into traffic and causes an accident will not always be strictly liable for the actions of that animal, says a new judgment from the High Court.

According to the court ruling in the long-running case of Schoultz v. Ball et al. this month, unless the escaped animal was frightened or panicked by acting erratically, the animal owner should not may be held strictly liable under Article 2(2) of the Animals. Law of 1971.

Global law firm Clyde & Co, which acted in the case, said the judgment made clear that under the Animals Act 1971 claimants had to show that an animal exhibited “a characteristic abnormal” such as fear or panic in order to successfully claim under the Act.

The claim arose from an accident in 2015 when Sofia Schoultz, a taxi passenger traveling on the A3 near Esher, suffered catastrophic injuries when her vehicle collided with an escaped horse. The horse belonged to Vicki Ball, whose insurer was represented by Clyde & Co.

Clare Garnett, Partner at Clyde & Co, said: “This judgment is particularly encouraging for both pet owners and their insurers. This means that just because your horse or animal escaped from a commercial facility such as a stable you trusted, does not automatically make you liable if it is subsequently involved in a road accident.

“If animals such as cows, dogs, foxes or deer are on the road and cause an accident simply because they are there, plaintiffs will have no further avenue of recovery in law. What this judgment makes clear is that it is about the circumstances which led to the accident, including the behaviors of the animals and any external stimuli acting on them.

“It is important to note that this case reiterates the importance of insurance for horse and livestock owners. That said, we have enormous sympathy for the applicant and her injuries. »

While sympathizing with the plaintiff, Her Honor Justice Melissa Clark said, “My findings on Lowri’s [the horse’s] behavior on the night of the collision do not support the Claimant’s contention that Lowri acted unpredictably (and “reacted forcefully”) in circumstances where she was frightened/panicked… Accordingly, I cannot conclude, as the Claimant asks me, that the likelihood that the injury to the Claimant, or that it was serious, was due to characteristics of Lowri not normally found in horses, except at particular times or in special circumstances. »

Judgment was delivered by the High Court on October 3 following the trial, which ran from June 14-17. The plaintiff’s case was based on the idea that the horses had escaped from their pasture after being subjected to “an adverse stimulus which they perceived as threatening”. However, the court rejected this argument following evidence that the field fence was lowered due to improper installation, allowing horses access to the road.

The court said the horse’s owner, Vicki Ball, was “an innocent party”.

The Clyde & Co team was led by partner, Clare Garnett, and paralegal, Charlotte Forsey. Harriet Jerram and Nathan Tavares KC of Outer Temple Chambers have been appointed counsel.