Injured horse rider loses negligence claim

Article

01 January, 2017

Tina Blandford v (1) Forestry Commission (2) Steven Edmunds (T/A D.M. Edmunds & Son) (3) Woodgate Sawmills Ltd (2016) CC (Bristol) (Judge Lambert) 14/10/2016

The Claimant was riding a horse through woodland in the Forest of Dean with two friends on a trail they had used regularly. The Claimant claimed that her horse had been frightened by a lorry on an adjoining forest road, causing it to bolt and throw her to the ground.

She claimed that the driver failed to stop despite noticing the horses. She also argued she should have either have been prevented from riding in the area or that warning signs should have alerted her to the fact that trees were being felled. The Claimant brought claims in negligence and/or breach of common law duty of care against the Defendants.

The driver stated that he had driven very slowly down the forest road and had slowed further when he saw the horses, as evidenced by his tachograph readings. He said that he would have stopped if he had seen a horse rearing. The Defendants denied any lack of care and argued that, in any event, any such breach of duty had not caused the Claimant's injuries.

The issue was whether the Defendants had caused or contributed to the claimant's fall by failing to take reasonable care for her safety.

At trial, the Judge dismissed the claim. He found that the driver's evidence supported by the tachograph reading was to be preferred. The forest road had a single dominant purpose of providing access for mechanically propelled vehicles within the woodland. It should have been obvious to any reasonable, prudent horse rider that a lorry or similarly-sized vehicle might use the road.

He also found that the Defendants had employed the requisite signs in the vicinity of the site, but the accident site was half a mile from where logs were being loaded onto the lorry. The absence of warning signs did not cause or contribute to the accident. The claimant would probably have ignored any warnings signs unless she was where tree-felling work was taking place. Her protest that if she had seen a sign she would have avoided the area was adopted in hindsight.

Nobody knew why the horse behaved as it did, but it was more likely because of the departure of the other horses at speed and the Claimant's attempts to stop it following them than the approaching lorry.

Forbes comment

For the Claimant to establish breach, there must have been some fault on the part of the Defendants. The duty whether at common law or under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, is to take such care as is in all the circumstances reasonable. Horse riding is a sport which carries some degree of risk. The trial judge concluded his judgment with a quote from Balcombe LJ (James v Bather t/a as Hill Barn Riding Stables (199 5) Lexis citation 3625): "It needs to be said that there are still such things as true accidents and that not every accident can be attributed to the negligence of some person or persons………What one should have foreseen when one knows what happened is not necessarily the same as should have been foreseen prior to the accident happening. This was a true accident."

For further advice please contact Elizabeth Bower by email or on 01254 222399.

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