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Have you ever been out walking your dog or simply walking a long a public footpath, perhaps through a field of livestock, as can often happen? Have you thought about what happens if you are injured by an animal, perhaps a cow, bull or horse? Whether or not you stray from the well-worn public footpath, you may want to think about the consequences.
While many of our activities were reduced or suppressed during the pandemic, one activity that did increase, substantially at times, was the number of people out walking. Whether that was walking the dog or rambling alone or with close family, the shear number of people out in the countryside increased significantly.
This put a lot of pressure on the country’s more popular public footpaths and bridleways, and introduced many unaccustomed people to the quirks of using them. Experienced walkers are all too familiar with how protective land owners and farmers can be when a public right of way passes through their property. Many landowners and farmers have provided positive support and guidance to members of the public that frequent the paths that traverse their property by fixing signs and notices that alert the public to any local dangers, such as grazing cattle, free roaming horses or areas protected because of endangered wildlife or nesting birds. Despite this though, the public often forget that dangers lurks, often just a short distance away, especially if small children and pets are involved.
A typical scenario is a dog that’s off its lead when signs alert the public to grazing animals. Dogs are curious animals and often chase after cattle. Cattle then panic and a variety of accidents can happen, from trampling walkers, killing the dog or breaking through fences and causing mayhem to passing motorists. If you are injured as a result of wandering off a publicly marked track and into private property and causing the problem through your own negligent actions, you may be held accountable for that injury, and potentially, the damage caused.
Personal injuries resulting from the public’s interaction with animals either on private or public land, as set out in the Animals Act of 1971, often requires detailed consideration of the exact circumstances of the incident and the nature of the animals involved.
The central tenants of the act which must be examined in each case often relate to interactions with species of animals generally regarded as ‘non-dangerous’, such as livestock, horses, sheep, etc. These are as follows:
Non-dangerous Species – Section 2(2):
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:
Section (b) in bold is important to understand. It is an area of the act that has caused most debate and confusion. It's worth reading just how contentious this clause has been in the past by reviewing the case of Mirvahedy vs Henley. While livestock, such as cows and horses, generally don’t attack people or give a cause for concern, if they are panicked, it is known that they can stampede and present a threat of injury. Similarly, during calving season, mothers will protect their young and likely become aggressive. This puts a farmer in a tough position, as he may be responsible if you are injured and he hasn’t taken reasonable precautions to protect you.
But of course, it’s not a simple at that either, as your role in the events as a walker are potentially a significant factor here. If you have been warned about the danger and neglect to heed the warning signs and an incident occurs, you may find yourself entirely to blame for any injury caused and possibly the damage too, particularly if you strayed of the marked path and wandered into the areas considered private property. Contributory negligence pays its part here.
As a walker enjoying the many public footpaths and bridleways traversing the glorious countryside we find in the UK, you have a legal responsibility too. Take heed of any warning notices. Farmers and land owners generally have enough on their plates to deal with and don’t put these up lightly. They are simply trying to protect you and themselves from injury and potential legal action, often due to the carelessness of individuals wandering around their land. Most footpaths in this country are well marked and those that traverse private property, especially so, as the land owners generally don’t want you to be there.
Luckily, for most of those walking, hiking or rambling, personal injuries are few and far between. A little common sense goes a long way, such as staying on marked footpaths, keeping dogs on a lead where livestock are present, and indeed firm control over children. Kids are more curious and sometimes more disobedient than the family pet and when combined with normally docile domesticated livestock, unexpected events can happen.
However, in case where you have sustained an injury while out walking and believe the fault to lie with the landowner or and animal’s keeper, the experienced personal injury solicitors at CCH & Co. is here to help you.
This post is not legal advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.