The Court of Appeal has issued a judgment in a personal injury case which has particular relevance for owners of horses.
The case involved a woman who was injured while out riding. Her horse became scared and reared up suddenly, causing her to fall off. She was kicked in the mouth and suffered a severe facial injury.
She sued the owner of the horse, arguing that he was liable for her injuries as they had resulted from the behaviour of the horse.
The law relating to an owner’s responsibility for injuries caused by their animals is complex as it seeks to take into account the natural characteristics of the animal, and these vary widely.
In this case, the woman argued that whilst she accepted the risk of the horse bucking – this being a common reaction of horses when they are frightened – in this instance the horse had bucked more violently than is usual. She claimed she had not been aware of that possibility and had therefore not accepted that risk. In other words, she claimed to have accepted the risk of ‘normal’ but not ‘violent’ bucking.
The Court of Appeal would not accept that she could limit her acceptance of risk in this way. She had voluntarily accepted the risk that the horse might buck. The horse’s owner was not therefore responsible for her injury.
This decision will be welcomed by horse owners who allow others to ride their animals. It is easy to see how a decision in favour of the claimant would have made the whole issue of liability in such cases a ‘grey area’ and could have led to a series of cases turning on the facts of the behaviour which led to the accident and whether it was ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’.