Horse Rider appeal dismissed as Court of Appeal finds owner of the horse not liable for damages

Robin Bower
Robin Bower

Published: January 5th, 2022

7 min read

Ford v Seymour-Williams

Lisa Ford brought a claim against the owner of the horse after an incident that occurred on 15 September 2018 left her with multiple injuries including a broken pelvis and internal bleeding. The case was heard initially at the High Court in January 2021. That decision was appealed by Lisa and was heard in the Court of Appeal recently, the outcome of which we will discuss in further detail below.

Background

Lisa Ford was riding with the Beaufort Hunt, one of the oldest and largest foxhunting packs in England, on the Duke of Beaufort's 52,000-acre Badminton estate in Gloucestershire. Lisa was employed by the Respondent as a groom at his stable. During her employment, Lisa had been riding in a hunt on one of the horses that was in the stables (Tommy). During the hunt, the horse reared and fell backwards, crushing her and causing significant injuries. The horse died within minutes of the incident.

Experts were instructed in the matter but were unable to ascertain exactly why the horse had reared, narrowing it down to either the horse being disobedient, or a cardiovascular catastrophe. Lisa Ford argued that, as the owner and keeper of the horse, he was strictly liable under s.2 (2) Animals Act 1971. Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds an individual or an organisation (an individual in this case) responsible for the damage caused regardless of whether they have intent or not.

The High Court Decision

The High Court found in favour of the owner of the horse, that the owner was not liable to pay damages for the injuries the horse had caused to Lisa. Lisa appealed this decision, and the case was heard by the Court of Appeal earlier this month.

The Court of Appeal Considerations

The Court of Appeal considered what was required for a claimant to establish under the Animals Act 1971 to fix the keeper of an animal with liability for damage it has caused.

Animals Act 1971 - s.2(2)(b)

To establish liability, this section of the act required the likelihood of damage to be due to characteristics not normally found in horses, or not normally found except at "particular times" or in "particular circumstances".

Animals Act 1971 - s.2(2)(c)

This section of the act required that those characteristics referred to in s.2 (2) (b) be known to the keeper.

The Court of Appeal Decision

The judge dismissed the claim, finding that the horse had reared in response to a cardiovascular catastrophe. It found that rearing in response to such an event was possible but was not something that was commonly known about, even among experienced equestrians. Therefore the s.2(2)(b) "particular circumstance" which caused the horse to rear was not known to the respondent, who therefore did not have the knowledge required by s.2(2)(c).

Importance of the reason for the horse rearing

As the facts of the instant case demonstrated, it was possible for a keeper to know that it was normal for a characteristic such as rearing to manifest itself as a result of one particular circumstance (such as disobedience) but not another (such as catastrophic internal failure). Therefore, it was necessary to establish the particular circumstance which caused the horse to rear.

Taking that approach, the requirements of s.2(2)(b) were met. The evidence established that the likelihood of damage was due to a characteristic (rearing) not normally found in horses except at particular times or in particular circumstances (which included catastrophic internal injury). On a fair reading, that was what the judge held.

Knowledge for the purpose of s.2(2)(c) had to extend to the particular time when, or circumstance in which, the characteristic arose. The parties' experts agreed that they had not known catastrophic internal injury to be the cause of rearing, but that it was possible in theory. Given the respondent's evidence that he had no professional experience of a horse rearing when in pain, the judge was entitled to find that the existence of what was only a theoretical possibility did not establish the knowledge necessary for the purposes of s.2(2)(c).

The reasoning supports the fact that claimants were not required to establish fault in order to fix keepers with liability under s.2(2), but keepers would not be liable without knowledge of the particular times when, or circumstances in which, the relevant characteristic under s.2(2)(b) arose.

What impact does this have on similar cases that may arise in the future?

In the context of injuries caused by horses there was a clear line of authority which established that behaviour such as rearing could be a characteristic for the purposes of s.2(2)(b) and that, for the purposes of s.2(2)(c), the keeper need only have knowledge of that characteristic in horses in general, and not in the individual horse in question.

However, in every case in which keeper was held liable that was considered when making their decision in the Court of Appeal, the court identified not only the characteristic but also the particular time when, or the circumstance in which, it had manifested itself. In each case the court considered, a particular event had triggered the behaviour and the keeper had known that such an event could be a trigger.

To satisfy the requirements of s.2(2)(b) it was necessary to identify the characteristic and also the particular time when, or circumstance in which it had arisen. Identifying the particular time or circumstance was also necessary for the purposes of assessing whether the keeper had the knowledge required by s.2(2)(c).

Of course, each individual case will turn on its particular facts and circumstances, however the reasoning set out by the Court of Appeal in this case provides us with some guidance on how the court will address any future claims that involve injuries sustained because of a horse injury. When bringing a claim it must be shown that not only the occurrence of the characteristic the animal has, but also the particular circumstances in which the characteristic behaviour arose, and that the owner of the animal had knowledge of the same. Obvious examples are the dog protecting its owner from a perceived threat, a cow protecting its young or horse being scared by something. If someone is injured, they may have a case. Owners of such animals should ensure they are adequately insured.

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