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Are horse owners strictly liable for personal injuries caused by their horses?

29 Apr 2009, 14:14 by Nathalie Bull


Labels: barrister, equine, horse, law, liability, personal-injury

In the case of Mirvahedy v Henley [2003] UKHL 16, the House of Lords confirmed that strict liability could arise under section 2(2) of the The Animals Act 1971 where personal injuries are caused by a horse which, although not behaving at the time of the accident in a way that is normal for the species, is nevertheless normal for animals of the species in the particular circumstances. In this case horses escaped from their field, bolted for a distance of over a mile onto a dual carriageway and struck a car, causing the driver to suffer serious personal injury. The horse owner was strictly liable for the damages.

However, cases following Mirvahedy, such as Freeman v Higher Park Farm [2008] All ER (D) 310, have demonstrated that decisions on strict liability are highly fact sensitive. The case of Freeman concerned a bucking horse which caused its rider to fall. This case failed on the basis of the lack of evidence that horses generally buck at particular times or in particular circumstances. In any event, the rider was excepted from liability under s.2 by s.5(2) as the rider was said to have voluntarily assumed the risk of damage by continuing to ride a horse which had already bucked during the same ride.

In conclusion, thorough factual analysis of every potential equine related personal injury claim is essential in order to determine whether a horse owner will be strictly liable for personal injuries caused by their horse.

 Written by Nathalie Bull, Barrister at New Walk Chambers, specialising in Equine Law.


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