Liability For Accidents Caused By Animals – Court Of Appeal Test Case

Animal owners have the responsibility to ensure their animals do not pose a danger to the public. In the following case heard by the Court of Appeal, a bullock who caused a car accident left the farmer who had not done anything inherently wrong, still legally liable to pay compensation.

The bullock had been purchased at auction 24 hours before the accident. The half-ton animal succeeded in jumping over a six-foot fence, and ended up on a main road over a mile and a half away. The motorist involved had no way of avoiding the impact with the bullock and as a result the car was damaged severely and he sustained a head injury which left him with no memory of the events. Sadly the bullock died at the scene. The motorist’s solicitor was seeking damages in excess of £50,000.

At trial the judge said there had been no evidence of negligence on behalf of the farmer, he had done all that he should have done in terms of caring for the bullock and helping it to adjust to his new environment. He had what was considered the right height of fencing, standing at six foot, so there seemed nothing more the farmer could have done, the fact that the bullock had jumped the fence took the farmer by surprise.

However, bullocks can be unpredictable when unsettled and the beef farmer should have been more cautious in his care of the animal. An award of compensation was made (although the amount is yet to be determined) under the Animals Act 1971, because the animal was not restrained and the damage was what would be anticipated should it get free. The farmer’s estate was liable to pay as the farmer had died before the hearing took place.