Why You Shouldn’t Tickle a Lion

Anybody who is “familiar” with the Animals Act 1971 will no doubt be aware that the more you look in to it the more complicated it appears, and the more unfamiliar it ironically seems to become.  However, cases involving personal injuries caused by animals continue to test the court system and one of the latest, Goldsmith v.Patchcott, delved in to the statutory defence afforded to Defendants under the act. So, are you sitting comfortably?  Then I will begin.. 

The case basically involved a Claimant who suffered personal injuries when she was thrown from a horse when it bucked violently.  The horse was being looked after by the Defendant and as such the Claimant sued him under the Animals Act for the personal injuries that she sustained.  The Act creates a “strict liability” test where certain conditions are satisfied, which effectively means that if the requirements of the Act are met then the Defendant is responsible for compensating the Claimant regardless of whether they are to blame for the accident or not. 

The Court at first instance held that the damage done by the horse was of a kind likely to be caused by the horse if unrestrained (test 1), and that the likelihood of the damage occurring was due to characteristics displayed by horses in certain situations, i.e. when startled (test two).  The Judge also found that the particular characteristics of bucking when startled were known to the Defendant (test three).  As such, the Claimant had satisfied the requirements for strict liability and would have won her case unless the Defendant could show that the defence contained within section 5(2) of the Act applied.  That section frees a Defendant from liability when the Claimant voluntarily accepts the risk of suffering personal injuries, the rationale being that if you engage with an animal when you know it might injure you then you must bear the consequences.  The Judge concluded that that is exactly what the Claimant did and dismissed her case.  Off to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal considered the Claimant’s submissions that whilst she had voluntarily accepted the risk of the horse bucking she had not accepted the risk of the horse bucking violently, i.e. using a larger degree of force than anticipated.  The Court rejected that argument and held that if the Claimant had foreseen that the risk was apparent, and had voluntarily accepted that risk, it did not matter what degree of bucking the horse had displayed because the Claimant had anticipated some bucking and knew that was risky.  The appeal failed and the Claimant remained uncompensated.

The Animals Act was enacted to make it easier for Claimants who suffer personal injuries at the hands, horns, or hooves of an animal to determine firstly if they have a viable case or not and secondly whether the keeper will be liable for the accident, thereby avoiding the “not me Guv, it was Nellie what did it” argument.  However, the Act is not without its common sense provisions and this case illustrates that the Court will not compensate an injured person where that person knew that they may be injured or where they did something to actually cause the injury.

The moral of the story is that if you tickle a lion you might get bitten, no matter how much he likes it at first.  Nobody would shout at Simba for losing patience with you; lions are fickle like that, and prone to mood swings.

Animals Act cases are extremely tricky and it is essential that you obtain specialist advice if you are injured in an accident involving an animal.  Call David Mayor or any of our Personal Injury Solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 975 2463, or contact us by email for free expert legal advice.

David Mayor

About David Mayor

David is Head of the Preston Office's Civil Litigation team and deals with all types of private Civil Court disputes. David’s blogs cover his expertise in all aspects of personal injury law from low value Road Traffic Accidents right through to complex large loss claims. David also writes and has a vast array of experience in Public Liability (trips and slips), Employer's Liability (accidents at work), and Motor Claims (motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents).
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