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Mirvahedy v Henley, House of Lords

25 March 2003
The issues

RTA – Animal Act 1971 Section 2.

The facts

The Claimant sued for damages for personal injuries when his car collided with a horse belonging to the Defendants. The horse had escaped from its field during the night breaking through an electric fence, a barbed wire fence and undergrowth. The horse, together with two other horses in the same field had got onto the A380. One of them crashed into the Claimant’s car causing damage and serious personal injuries. The Judge at first instance found that the horses had escaped because of some unknown event that had caused them to panic and trample the fences and posts that would otherwise have been adequate for keeping in normal horses. He found no negligence.

He found no liability under Section 2(ii) Animals Act 1971 because the damage had been caused by the presence of the horses on the road, rather than by any abnormal or unusual characteristics they displayed. The Claimant appealed to the Court of Appeal, who allowed the Appeal on the basis that the accident had been caused by the particular characteristics of the horses once they had escaped and that the Animals Act did cover temporary characteristics, which were normal to the breed, even in unusual circumstances.

The Defendant appealed to the House of Lords.

The decision

The Decision (by a Majority of 3-2)

1. The Court of Appeal had been correct. The keeper could be liable where the behaviour of the animal was not normally found in animals of the same species, but the keeper could also be liable where the behaviour, although not generally displayed by animals of that species, was normal in particular circumstances or at particular times. So the behaviour of the horses in bolting in panic was normal in the circumstances of being panicked by an external event.

Comments

As Lord Nicholl noted, it is difficult to see circumstances in which Section 2 (ii)(b)
will not be satisfied where an animal has caused an accident and the width of the strict liability imposed by the Act is accordingly widened.

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