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Bodey v Hall, High Court, 5 August 2011

18 August 2011
The issues

Animals Act 1971 – horse and trap – whether Claimant had voluntarily accepted the risk – whether severity of the damage likely should be considered without reference to the circumstances of the accident.

The facts

The Claimant had an accident whilst travelling as a groom in a pony and trap driven by Mrs Hall on a country lane near Newbury in Berkshire. As the trap turned off the country lane onto a track the horse, Pepper, shot forward rapidly, causing the trap to tip and throwing both Mrs Hall and the Claimant out of the trap, onto the ground. Mrs Bodey was not wearing a riding hat at the time. The Claimant brought a claim for personal injuries, relying on the Animals Act 1971 and in particular Section 2. Section 2 of the Animals Act reads:-

“Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this Act, if – a) the damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and b) the likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally fund in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances; and c) those characteristics were known to that keeper or were at any time known to a person who at that time had charge of the animal as that keeper’s servant or, where that keeper is the head of a household, were known to another keeper of the animal who is a member of that household and under the age of 16.”

Section 5(2) provides that a person is not liable under Section 2 of the Act for any damage suffered by a person who had voluntarily accepted the risk.

The decision

Mrs Hall was the keeper of the horse. The injury caused was as the result of the horse being startled by an unknown stimulus. There were three issues before the Court; whether Section 2(2) of the Animals Act was satisfied; whether the exemption to the Act applied; and whether the Claimant should have a deduction from her damages, should liability be found, in respect of her failure to wear a riding hat.

Did Section 2 apply?

The first part of Section 2 was satisfied. Damage had been caused by an animal which did not belong to a dangerous species.

The first limb of Section 2(2)(a) did not apply, ie: damage which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause. The second limb of Section 2(2)(a) related to the severity of the injury. In Mirvahedy, the House of Lords had said that the word “likely” should be given its natural meaning of “reasonably be expected to happen”.

In considering the severity, although the Defendant had argued that this should be considered without reference to the circumstances of the accident, this was the wrong approach, which would make nonsense of the scheme of strict liability in the Act. The damage referred to was the injury sustained to Mrs Bodey’s head when she was thrown out of the trap. The injury was likely to be severe where Mrs Bodey was thrown from the trap in circumstances where the horse shot forward unexpectedly as the result of an unknown stimulus. It was not sufficient to look at the horse and ask the question whether the horse itself was likely to cause personal injury. It was necessary to look at the particular circumstances to answer the question posed by Section 2(2)(a).

As to Section 2(2)(b) the predisposition of a horse to behave unpredictably by running away when confronted by an unknown stimulus could properly be identified as a characteristic. The horse’s behaviour in becoming startled was not normal behaviour generally for animals of that species, but it was normal behaviour in the particular circumstances where there was an unknown stimulus. It was accepted by the parties that if Section 2(2)(a) and (b) applied, then 2(2)(c) would apply as well.

Did the exemption apply?

Mrs Bodey was an experienced horsewoman. When she accepted the invitation to travel as a groom, she did so accepting full responsibility for her exposure to what took place. She fully appreciated the risk of injury from the trap tilting or tipping when she agreed to act as Mrs Hall’s groom on the day of the accident. In Cummings v Granger, the Court of Appeal had noted that it would be wrong to see the Defence whittled down by too fine distinctions. The Court of Appeal had noted that they were simple English words which should be treated as such. There was no specific risk attached to this particular horse of which Mrs Bodey should have been made aware. The knowledge that she had of the risk of injury came from her extensive experience as a horsewoman. The risk was not of a significantly different character from that which might have occurred had she been riding. The statutory exception applied.

Contributory negligence.

Had it not applied, the Court was not satisfied that Mrs Bodey’s failure to wear a hat contributed to the cause of the accident. Whilst it was prudent for drivers and grooms of ponies and traps to wear riding hats, it was not habitual.

Claim dismissed.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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