‘Oracular and opaque’ are the words Jackson L.J. uses of the Animals Act in a judgment (Goldsmith v Patchcott  EWCA Civ 183) which is impeccably logical and clear. The facts are the easy bit: ‘Red’ was a horse who reared and then bucked violently, throwing the claimant to the ground and then striking her in the face with its hoof and causing her nasty injuries.
Hold tight for a moment whilst we canter through the law: If you are dealing with an animal which is not of a dangerous species then you need to establish that (a) the damage the animal caused by the animal is likely to be severe unless the animal is restrained (b) the likelihood of damage is caused by characteristics of the animal not normally found in animals of the same species or not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances and (c) those characteristics were known to the keeper at the time. It is a defence for a defendant if the claimant voluntarily accepted the risk (s.5(2)).
The judge found that horses’ characteristics included bucking in particular circumstances when they were startled or alarmed and thus (b) above was made out. The claimant took issue: horses do not only buck when they are startled or alarmed. Jackson L.J. said that was a conclusion the judge was entitled to come to on the evidence. Strikingly however there was no expert evidence in this case. Longmore L.J. said that the appeal on (b) would have succeeded if there had been expert evidence that bucking was a normal characteristic of any horse in any circumstance. The lesson for defendants is to go to court armed with such expert evidence.
However the claim failed because the judge found that the claimant had voluntarily accepted the risk of Red rearing and bucking. The claimant’s argument was that she had not voluntarily accepted the risk of the horse rearing and bucking as violently as it did. The Court of Appeal found that the claimant did not need to foresee the precise degree of energy with which the animal would engage in its characteristic behaviour.
This case includes a useful review of the authorities on sections 2 and 5 of the Animals Act for anyone who practices in this field…
(Photograph courtesy of Freefoto.com)