Richard Brooks is a solicitor with considerable experience in animal-related claims. In this article, he discusses how the law applies to victims who have been injured by cattle ,and explains how you don’t necessarily have to prove the cattle owner was at fault.
If you have been charged by a cow, it may rank as one of your most frightening experiences.
Society provides that cows and people will meet in fields with public footpaths. Most of the time, of course, walkers pass on by without any difficulty whatsoever. But, frequently enough, walkers will be injured by cows for different reasons.
Most non-animal accident claims require the claimant to prove that the defendant has been negligent in some way. We are familiar with the concept of “blame”,
- The classic example is needing to blame another car driver for an accident before being able to recover compensation.
- Take another example of a slipping accident in a supermarket. In such a case a claimant would have to demonstrate that the supermarket management had been negligent about its system to clear up spillages or the type of floor surface used, for example.
However, in this country, for claimants injured by animals, the law has been established to obtain compensation without having to blame the farmer. There is no pre-requisite to prove that the farmer was somehow careless in his field layout, or the way in which cows and members of the public were permitted to come into contact. That is not to say that farmers are not sometimes held to have been negligent, but in most cases the farmer is not held legally blameworthy at all. Nevertheless, they still may be held legally responsible to pay compensation.
It is also important to understand that it is unnecessary to prove that a cow or herd has any history of dangerous behaviour. Most cases brought under the Animals Act 1971 concern perfectly normal animals. The fact is that large animals, like cows and horses, can be dangerous in certain circumstances, and the law does protect walkers if the risks of injury materialise.
It is tempting for some to argue that walkers must accept the risk of injury if they decide to walk through a field of cows and, therefore, they should not be entitled to compensation if injured. But that is not the law. Walkers are entitled to be on public footpaths, so that argument fails.
None of this should not be taken to mean that farmers should not concern themselves with a duty of care towards walkers. Because, of course, other laws are at play, and farmers do have a legal duty to reduce risks if not eradicate them. Ultimately, farmers have been charged with manslaughter if their cows kill walkers and the farmer was said to have been reckless about the danger posed by their herd.
Injuries can lead to lifelong medical problems and severely financial problems caused by being unable to work or the need for professional care. This is why farmers should be insured for the risk. Unfortunately not all farmers (or indeed other animal owners) are insured.
Readers should not assume that an injury will automatically result in compensation. There are a number of legal hurdles to establish a claim. Insurer’s will always keep their purse strings tight and very often reject claims, hoping they will be abandoned. But, if you have been injured by cattle, it is sensible to seek legal advice, because a claim may have better prospects than you imagine, although success is not automatic.
Anyone considering a claim for compensation should seek advice from a solicitor specialising in animal claims. Provisional advice should be available without charge, and practically all claims are made on a no win – no fee basis.