Wed 19 Jul 2023

A guide to animal injury claims

In recent years, Morton Fraser MacRoberts' Personal Injury team have acted in a number of cases involving animals, including horses and cattle.  This article sets out your rights if you have an accident involving an animal or are injured by an animal, and whether you are entitled to claim for your loss.

Who is liable for an animal attack or injury?

Most cases involving animals are brought under the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 which provides that strict liability will apply. This means that the defender will require to pay compensation without the pursuer having to prove negligence. The claim should be made against the keeper of the animal. This is either the owner or person in possession of the animal or, where the animal is owned by a child under 16, the person who has care or control of that child. If an animal escapes or is abandoned, ownership or possession continues until someone else becomes the new owner.

What types of animal attacks or injuries caused by animals can I claim for?

Dog-related injury and dog bite compensation

Dogs are deemed to be dangerous animals under the Act. Therefore, if you are bitten by a dog, the keeper will be liable regardless of whether it was the first time the dog had bitten anyone or had previously displayed violent tendencies.  In a recent case, a dog walker was unsuccessful in recovering compensation from another dog walker, the owner of a Labrador who knocked her over, injuring her knee.  Both dog walkers had been walking with their dogs off the lead when the Labrador ran at the claimant. No biting was involved. The Court held in the circumstances that strict liability did not apply and clarified that strict liability would only apply to cases involving "biting, savaging, attacking or harrying".  

If the injury is caused in another way, the owner is only liable if the breed of dog is likely to be deemed dangerous, which a Labrador was not.  Therefore, to be successful in a claim after falling or being knocked over by a dog, you would need to prove that the dog was likely to be dangerous and the owner had been negligent.

While liability is strict, the Court may make a deduction to any compensation awarded to take account of contributory negligence.  In one case, a pursuer had her award reduced by 85% to take account of the fact that she put her face close to dog whilst pulling the hairs on his face.

Attacks on children

With a surge in dog ownership in Scotland during and post-pandemic, there has come an increase in dog attacks specifically involving children. For avoidance of doubt, if an adult or child is attacked by a dog, strict liability should apply. The parents or guardians of a child attacked by a dog can seek compensation on behalf of the injured child, claiming against the owner of the dog.

Injuries caused by livestock

Unlike dogs, livestock such as sheep, goats and cattle are not deemed to be dangerous animals under the Act. Therefore, if you are injured by such an animal strict liability does not immediately apply and consideration is taken as to whether the animal is likely to injure. If the keeper of livestock deems any particular animals pose a risk to public safety, they must properly manage this risk. For example, a large bull acting in an aggressive manner should be moved away from areas with public access. The keeper must also ensure fencing of livestock is sufficient and that areas are adequately sign posted. A balance must be struck here between keeping the public safe without impeding public access rights, which can be challenging.  

Horse riding accidents and injuries caused by horses

Like livestock, horses are not automatically deemed to be dangerous under the Act. Given strict liability does not apply, it must be considered whether the keeper took necessary steps to protect the public from injury caused by the horse. 

Horse riding is a popular activity but can be extremely dangerous and accidents can leave a rider permanently disabled. In a road traffic collision, both the rider and horse may be injured, as well as other road users depending on the circumstances. Whether someone is injured by a horse as a passer-by or as a rider, they may be entitled to pursue a personal injury claim for compensation. 

Road traffic collisions caused by animals

Under the Act, the mere fact that an animal is present on a road or in another place does not give rise to strict liability.  The Court has previously held that whilst there is a duty on an owner or occupier of a field adjoining a highway to ensure horses or other animals do not cause damage, there is no duty to put up fences on land which is not normally fenced, or to be responsible for unauthorised people opening gates and allowing animals to escape. Therefore, best practice is to drive with caution in areas where you may encounter livestock on the road, such as rural locations. 

If you are injured in a road traffic collision caused by a pet, such as a large dog, you may be able to claim against the owner. If the owner failed to control the animal, it is possible for a claim to be raised against the keeper of the animal.
For wild animals, liability is a trickier issue. If you are involved a collision as a result of your car hitting a deer you may be unable to claim compensation. Deer are wild animals, and if there is no owner, there is no party to pursue for compensation. This remains the case even if you hit a deer driving through a private estate with roaming deer. 

Wild animal injuries including those sustained at a zoo or wildlife parks

While injuries sustained at a zoo or wildlife park are rare, accidents do happen. The vast majority of exotic animals are deemed to be dangerous wild animals within the Act, and are listed in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. Therefore, in cases where a wild animal regarded as dangerous severely injures or kills a person or animal, strict liability applies. Compensation can be sought by the injured individual or their family, against the keeper of the animal. The keeper of the animal would be required to pay compensation without the injured party proving negligence. It should be noted that animals within any "petting zoo" aspect of such facilities like horses, pigs and goats, are not automatically deemed to be dangerous and strict liability does not apply to such animals. 

Defence of Strict Liability

There are exceptions to strict liability:-

  1. If the injury was the fault of the injured person;
  2. If the injured person knew of and accepted the risk; or
  3. If the injury happened on land where the person was not entitled to be.

An example of an injured person knowing and accepting the risk would be if someone trespassed onto land where they knew there was a guard dog and was subsequently bitten.  In order to be successful in this defence, it is necessary to show that the injured person fully appreciated the risk and still exposed themselves to it. 

There are a number of examples of horse riding cases where this defence has been put forward successfully.  The outcome of the case depends upon whether the horse rider - who was injured when being thrown from the horse - knew the horse was likely to buck.

Who will pay for the animal injury claim?

From a claimant's perspective, a practical consideration is whether the defender can pay any compensation which may be awarded.  If the keeper has insurance, this will cover the cost. However, insurance for owners of animals is not compulsory. 

An alternative route to recover compensation is through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).  However, to be successful in a claim to the CICA, it is necessary to prove the injury resulted from criminal violence. This means it must be possible to show, for example, that the dog was deliberately set upon the claimant with the intention of causing severe injury.

How to claim after an accident or attack involving an animal?

There are various factors to take into account when considering the basis for making a claim, including the circumstances of the incident, the type of animal, whether the injured party was at fault, who the owner is and, perhaps most importantly, whether they have the means to pay damages. 

If you have suffered an injury as a result of animal attacks, dog bites or animal-related injuries please get in touch to find out how we can help you. At Morton Fraser MacRoberts, our experienced personal injury team will take the time to assess your claim and can help you get the compensation you are entitled to. Contact our personal injury lawyers in Edinburgh and Glasgow today for a free, confidential chat or complete our personal injury compensation enquiry form.

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