Animals Act 1971
If you have been involved with an animal related road traffic accident you will need to consider the Animals Act 1971. Every year on our roads cars, motorcycles and lorries have accidents with over 1 million animals and 10 million birds at an annual cost of £20 million. Deer accidents alone cause over 700 deaths and injuries every year. Anyone who has been using the roads even for a short time will have seen dead animals at the side of the road. What is seen less frequently is the state of the vehicle which came in to contact with the animal, and, even worse, the driver or rider.
If you are unlucky enough to hit an animal then you may be able to claim compensation if the animal was domestic (ie dog) or livestock (ie sheep). The chances of claiming compensation if it was a wild animal (ie deer, pheasant etc) are slim to non-existent as there is generally no ‘owner’ to seek compensation from.
Primarily there are two routes to a successful compensation claim. They can be sought independently or alternatively.
- Under the law of general negligence; and/or
- Under the Animals Act 1971
Every animal owner/controller has a duty to ensure it is not a danger to anyone or allow it to become such a danger. If they fail to do so and those animal(s) then move on to a road causing an accident to occur with a car/motorcycle etc then they could be liable under the general provision of negligence. You will have to prove they have failed in their duty to control the animal or avoid causing harm to someone and they have not acted in the manner of an ordinary prudent owner/controller.
Animals Act 1971
This is a complex area as you have to satisfy all of the elements of section 2(2) of the Act to succeed in a claim and the phrasing of section 2(2) is almost incomprehensible. Section 2(2) reads:-
Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this act, if-
a) the damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and
b) the likelihood of the damage or its being severe was due to the characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found at particular times in particular circumstances; and
c) those characteristics were known to that keeper.
The test to satisfy Section 2(2)(a) is very much a test of fact and strictly speaking expert evidence (ie behaviourist and an experienced vet for example) is probably needed to establish any such likelihood. Bear in mind different breeds of the same species can act differently. For example whilst Terriers tend to be a more excitable type of dog than a Golden Retriever, the damage a Golden Retriever could cause by sheer body size alone is obviously greater than a Terrier. These are the sort of things which need to be considered.
Section 2(2)(b) has been a source of much case law which has frequently imposed a pretty strict interpretation and strict liability on the owners of non-dangerous animals which have acted in strange ways under particular circumstances. For example a horse will not normally bolt but it will if it is startled by a car horn and cause severe damage when it does.
Section 2(2)(c) is undoubtedly the easiest to satisfy but again it is a question of fact.
In a recent case, LJ Etherton said: "Stripped of its rather complex legal framework, the policy underlying s.2(2), as clarified by case law, is straightforward. Strict liability for an animal belonging to a domesticated species will only arise if (1) the damage is caused by a dangerous characteristic (dangerous because of the likelihood that type of damage will be caused or, if caused, its likely severity), and (2) that characteristic deviates from the normal characteristics of that domesticated species, or (3) that domesticated species is itself dangerous insofar as it normally has that characteristic at particular times or in particular circumstances, and the damage was in fact caused at such a time or in such circumstances."
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