Make animal keepers liable for injuries23 June 2009
Government plans to change legislation
Existing law is virtually unusable in compensation claims by people injured by animals but planned amendments will only make matters worse, says Thompsons Solicitors.
Government plans to change the legislation will make the law more complicated, according to Thompsons which is the largest and most experienced claimant personal injury firm in the UK.
The response by Thompsons comes in the wake of a recent tragic accident in which a woman was trampled to death by a herd of cows while walking her dogs in a field in the Yorkshire Dales.
In another recent incident the former Home Secretary David Blunkett was injured by a charging cow.
Suing the keepers of such animals for compensation has always been challenging but proposed changes to legislation would not help, says Tom Jones of Thompsons.
What is needed is amendment of the Animals Act 1971 to impose strict liability on the keepers of animals unless that happens uncertainties would remain, Mr Jones said. “Innocent victims of animal attacks face an uphill struggle to secure compensation in the face of aggressive and well-funded defences by insurers,” she/he said.
Proposed amendments to section 2(2)(b) of the Animals Act raise the prospect of even more litigation to clarify the meaning of the law. It is already necessary for a claimant to prove that an animal has certain characteristics the keeper should have been aware of, in order to succeed in a claim.
The need for a claimant to prove that the behaviour of the animal was normal, or for the keeper to prove that it was conditional on the circumstances would remain.
The current Act has become almost unusable by those claiming compensation says Thompsons which has a specialist animals claims unit running more than 100 cases at any one time.
Tom Jones said: “The campaign to have the Act amended so as to explicitly limit owners’ liability is part of an insurance/defendant driven agenda that the cost of personal injury claims is too high, but it is ludicrous defences that drive up costs.
“Why shouldn’t owners be responsible for their animals? If you can’t control your animal or think your animal is unsafe then why should you get away with them injuring someone. If the injured party is in some way to blame for an accident, then a solicitor will advise whether the case is likely to succeed.
“The principle should be that the owner of the cow that attacks someone on a right of way or the horse that bolts due to the young rider being unable to control it should be liable to the injured person.”
Read Thompsons Solicitors' full response on the Changes to the Animals Act 1971 to clarify the application of strict liability to the keepers of animals.
This news story was also published by Farming UK.