Liability for Injury Caused by Animals
Posted on 12th April 2021 at 09:55
Keepers of livestock have a duty of care to take all reasonable care to protect members of the public crossing their land – whether via a footpath, bridleway or byway. The following case highlights the potential liability arising from accidents on their land.
Shirley McKaskie v John Cameron 2009
Shirley McKaskie was following a public right of way across a field with her dog when she moved off the footpath to avoid the overgrown nettles. Grazing in the field were a suckler herd of cows and a bull.
Cows are known to be protective over their calves and can become aggressive if disturbed during the breeding season. The farmer, John Cameron, understood this behaviour well and yet continued to allow walkers to use this path. The herd trampled Shirley McKaskie, causing serious skeletal and head injuries that required emergency brain surgery and could have been fatal had John Cameron not rushed to her aid. She is unable to work as she suffered from cognitive and adverse behavioural changes.
Shirley McKaskie made a personal injury claim against the farmer, John Cameron, who was found liable and £250,000 was awarded to the plaintiff. The judge held the defendant liable on three counts:
Under the Animals Act 1971 section 2.2 – it was known by the defendant that ‘aggressiveness’ was a characteristic typically exhibited by cows with young calves.
Under the Occupier’s Liability Act 1957 – the defendant had breached his duty of care to members of the public on his land.
In Common Law Negligence – the defendant breached the duty of care owed to his ‘neighbour’, a principle established in Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 by failing to consider and adequately communicate the risk that his cattle posed to the public.
The judge determined that either the footpath should have been protected by a fence or the livestock grazed elsewhere. At the very least, the farmer should have displayed a warning to members of the public at the entrance to the field.
Assess the Risks
This case highlights the importance to assess the risks posed to members of the public and to then take all reasonable steps to protect them from harm.
Putting signage does not remove liability, but it does at least demonstrate the care taken to inform members of public if the risk where there is a right of way through the field.
Ensure that you have fully considered the risk posed to the public when putting livestock out to graze.
Put informative signs at all entrances to the field
Where potentially dangerous livestock or when at certain times, like heifers and mares with their respective calves and foals, relocating to another field where there is no right of way.
Try to deter the public from using rights of way over your land.
Fall foul of the Countywide and Wildlife Act 1981 section 59 banning the keeping of bulls in fields crossed by a right of way, unless they are under the age of 10 months or not of a recognised dairy breed, provided they're accompanied by cows or heifers (young female cows).
Even where all reasonable steps have been taken to prevent injury, there is still a residual risk and so it is paramount that you have an adequate insurance policy in place as the costs associated in defending and paying any compensation are high. To compound matters, the governments ‘Ogden’ rate set is currently set at a minus -0.25%, meaning any personal injury involving life-time care has to now be sufficiently loaded, where previously discounted, to counter current low interest rates.
At Johnson Insurance Services, we specialise in core rural sectors and so we understand the risks our clients face with first-hand experience backed up with extensive technical knowledge to ensure our clients are suitably covered.
For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact one of the team on 01904 217455 or drop us an email
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