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Animals Act 1971 - Court of Appeal upholds Section 5 Defence

29 February 2012
Court of Appeal upholds Section 5 Defence 29 February 2012

Judgment has been handed down in the Animals Act case of Goldsmith v Patchcott 2012. The claimant was riding a horse kept by the defendant alone when something startled the horse. The horse reared and then started to buck violently. The claimant was thrown to the ground and then struck in the face by the horses hoof.

The claimant had been made aware prior to riding the horse that the horse was "on its toes" and would require an experienced rider; however, there had been no significant incidents prior to index accident. Furthermore, before the claimant embarked on the journey the horses behaviour had not given cause for concern. Both the defendant and claimant were aware that horses could buck when startled or alarmed but neither had anticipated that the horse would buck as violently as it had done so on the day in question.

The claimant conceded that she had voluntarily accepted the risk that the horse could buck when spooked. However, it was argued that the degree of bucking and the fact that the horse had bucked so violently was not anticipated and therefore the Judge at first instance had erred in finding that the defendant had a defence by virtue of section 5(2).

The Court of Appeal agreed with the Judge at first instance and held that if the claimant foresaw the possibility of bucking and voluntarily accepted that risk, then section 5(2) is engaged. It is irrelevant that the horse bucked more violently than had been anticipated. The claimant cannot have consented to bucking but not violent bucking.

Whether a section 5(2) defence succeeds often depends on the circumstances of the case and the knowledge possessed by the claimant. Historically it has been difficult to avoid liability on the basis that the claimant voluntarily accepted the risk. However, it appears more recently that the courts are beginning to absolve the defendant of liability on this basis, presumably as a consequence to the strict liability imposed by section 2(2) following Mirvahedy v Henley 2003.

The case of Goldsmith v Patchcott 2012 follows a stream of cases, such as Freeman v Higher Park Farm 2008 and Body v Hall 2011, whereby the defendant has been found not liable in circumstances whereby the claimant proceeds to engage with the animal knowing of the risk which subsequently eventuates. As Jackson LJJ correctly states it should not be "a prerequisite of the section 5(2) defence that the claimant should foresee the precise degree and energy with which the animal will engage in its characteristic behaviour".

With this in mind it is imperative to assess both the knowledge of the claimant in relation to the relevant characteristic of the animal concerned as well as the defendant when faced with an Animals Act claim.

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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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