It appears that spring has eventually sprung and summer isn’t far behind it with the sunshine we have been getting in the Southwest recently and what better time to get out into the countryside to enjoy a walk and perhaps a picnic. For most of us, this is one of life’s pleasures especially living in such a beautiful part of the country but each year many people are left intimidated or injured by some of the animals they encounter whilst exercising their right to use a public right of way in the countryside.
The majority of animals happened upon will, of course, pay you no attention or move out of your way. We do not have any dangerous wild species in the UK but this does not mean that other animals will not cause injury. Bulls, cows, horses, sheep and goats are all considered non-dangerous as they are generally either tamed or kept under human control. However, all of these animals could cause serious injuries to a person if appropriate warnings aren’t given and any previous incidents which indicate that the animal could cause harm are not heeded.
For anyone who does find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being injured by such an animal, it may be possible for them to claim compensation under the Animals Act 1971. In order to do so, they will need to be able to establish the following –
- That there was a likelihood of injury being caused if the animal was not restrained, or
- If the animal were to cause injury, it was likely that it would be severe, AND
- The animal’s behaviour was abnormal for its species, or
- The behaviour was normal for the species in the circumstances, AND
- That the keeper or owner of the animal had knowledge of its dangerous character.
Clearly, it may not be easy to establish these points and it will only be possible to claim compensation where the owner or keeper of the animal knows that the animal had a propensity to be dangerous and has failed to take steps to put up warning signs about the animal or to keep them securely away from the public. Owners of such animals must be responsible when it comes to keeping animals in fields that are accessible by a right of way and must also be sensible about particular times when animals may become defensive, for example when mothers are protective over their young.
Owners of these types of animal also have a duty to ensure that they take care to prevent any injuries being caused as a result of the animal/s straying onto the highway. If they fail to adequately fence the animals they could face a claim in negligence. These rules do not apply so strictly to areas of unfenced, common land where animals may be put to graze, such as Dartmoor, so long as the owner has permission to put the animals there.
These rules also apply to dogs and it is important that their owners do act responsibly if their dog has a history of aggressive behaviour. Simple steps such as keeping a dog on a lead or muzzling it when amongst other people can easily prevent any situations arising which could otherwise end in someone being injured.
In the main, injuries caused by animals can often be avoided by taking some very straightforward, inexpensive steps, leaving the countryside a place for everyone to enjoy.
Harris Fowler has a team of specialist personal injury solicitors who can offer advice to anyone injured by an animal. Free and confidential legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit our website harrisfowler.co.uk
Harris Fowler is a trading name of Harris Fowler Limited and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority no. 558271.