Does a cow – or any animal – have to be ‘dangerous’ for an animal injury claim to be made?
Having recently read about the unusual and tragic case of a water buffalo killing and injuring people in Monmouthshire, Wales, I thought it might be relevant to analyse the law concerning dangerous animals.
The Animals Act 1971 establishes strict liability for the keepers of dangerous animals.
The Act splits animals into two classes:
- those animals classed as belonging to a dangerous species such as lions and tigers (so pretty rare in this country);
- those species that are not normally dangerous but which sometimes are.
So, does an animal have to be considered ‘dangerous’ for a claim to be brought?
Some animals can develop a reputation for being usually dangerous. Horses and cows, for example, could be unusually aggressive. They can have a history of standing out from their herd, so to speak, and are often said to have a propensity to act dangerously.
On the other hand, most cases lawyers deal with are incidents caused by animals that themselves are not normally dangerous. However, due to a particular set of circumstances they have done something dangerous that any normal animal in the species might do. Take for example a dog guarding her puppies or territory; a horse kicking at something out of fear, or a cow scared for her calf.
Animals in cases like these can be seen to have done something dangerous even if they are not inherently dangerous themselves. It does not matter that the animal has never exhibited this kind of behaviour before.
How are these cases usually defended – can the right to claim be lost/waived?
Claims for compensation can be defended on the basis that the injured person was trespassing, or that they were entirely to blame for what happened.
It is also a defence to say that claimant actually volunteered to accept the risk of being injured, although importantly that does not extend to walkers on a public footpath who have no intention of “engaging” with cows in the field they are crossing. Walkers are not prohibited from making claims for cow attacks merely because they chose to walk on a public footpath through cows.
Very specifically employees cannot be taken to waive their rights to making a claim by “volunteering” to working with animals. A farm worker, or stable worker cannot be said to have accepted the risk of working with cows or horses.
It remains to be seen what caused the water buffalo in this case to behave as it did. However it is likely that even if it had been a docile and generally trustworthy animal it will be subject to the strict liability obligations of the Animals Act 1971.