Injury caused by animals is regularly in the news. Today (14 May), it was reported that two men walking a dog in a field in Wiltshire were trampled by a herd of cows. One of them died as a consequence of the animal inflicted injuries and the other, seriously ill from his injury, was admitted to Frenchay Hospital, Bristol.
In tragic circumstances such as these, is there a remedy for those individuals who suffer death or injury caused by animals?
Is there an entitlement to compensation?
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act gives us the right to walk in the country across mapped access land (mountain, heath, down and registered common land) in addition to public rights of way, which include public foot paths. Footpaths often cross fields where cows or livestock are grazing and the animals may react to our presence with sometimes disastrous consequences.
The Animals Act makes the keeper of an animal responsible for any damage or injury caused by their stock, in most cases. There is an onerous responsibility on the landowner to assess the amount and type of public access across their land, in their consideration of what reasonable precautions they should be taking. This is in addition to considering the likely behaviour of the livestock and the public’s right of way. If the animals are known or suspected to be aggressive then they should not be kept in a field that is used by the public. The Occupiers’ Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 also require landowners and managers to exercise a duty of care towards people – even trespassers – who are on their land.
The Animals Act is a complex piece of legislation but its aim is to provide a remedy to the public in situations like those described.