15 February, 2017
Harris v Miller 2016 EWHC 2438 (QB)
The Claimant, then just 14 years of age, fell from a horse which she was riding, and sustained paraplegic life changing injuries. The horse belonged to the Defendant who had recently bought the animal having chosen to take up horse riding as a hobby.
An action was originally brought in negligence and under the Animals Act 1971; but since the Claimant could not have succeeded in the statutory claim if she failed at common law, only negligence was pursued at trial.
At trial there was a significant conflict of evidence as to what actually happened and the exact circumstances of the accident. There was also disagreement over the behaviour and temperament of the horse.
Having considered the evidence, the judge found that it was reasonably foreseeable that the horse would be strong and difficult to control, and in certain conditions likely to unseat a rider who was not used to managing a horse bred to race and trained to gallop. Whilst the consequence of serious injury may not have been foreseen, that was immaterial. It was foreseeable that the horse might unseat the rider leading to an injury of some sort. The Defendant had made a "serious error of judgment" in buying the "unsuitable horse" in the early stages of her riding hobby and allowing the inexperienced Claimant to ride the horse.
The Defendant's standard of care must be assessed by reference to that of the ordinary and reasonably prudent horse owner. According to the Judge, such a person should ensure that he or she is possessed of sufficient information about both horse and rider to be able to assess any risk from what is an inherently dangerous activity. The Claimant was a 14 year old girl with limited experience, the Defendant should have known that the Claimant would have struggled to handle a horse of this nature.
This decision is likely to have implications for horse owners. Whilst horse riding is an inherently dangerous activity, the Court has made it clear that the onus is on the horse owner to give serious consideration to those whom they permit to ride their animals.