Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Advice: Old laws no longer apply for accidents caused by livestock

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The legal rules relating to damage and liability by animals can impose a 'strict liability' on the owner

Theresa Murphy

The recent case of a man who settled a High Court action over injuries he suffered when he took a lift in a car which crashed into a heifer on a Tipperary road have brought the question of liability for animals to the fore.

The passenger suffered injuries to his chest, neck and shoulder when the hoof of the heifer struck him in the accident in October 2010, on the Ragg to Thurles road in Co Tipperary, the court heard.

The injured man sued the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland (which compensates victims of uninsured and untraced drivers) and the owner of the heifer.

The accident was caused by the negligence and breach of duty of the unidentified and untraced driver and/ or the owner of the heifer, it was also claimed by the injured man. The case was settled prior to being heard by the High Court.

For those livestock owners who might now be worried about the consequences of their stock straying onto roadways etc. it is important to know what the law is.

The legal rules which cover liability for damage and injuries caused by animals are unusual in that they impose a 'strict liability' on the owner in many instances.

'Strict liability' means that the owner will have no defence to a claim made by an affected person and will have to compensate the affected person even though they did not intend the damage or injury to occur.

The old rule, that the owner of animals which stray onto the public road was not liable for damage and injury caused by the animals whilst on the road, no longer applies.

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The law currently provides that the owner must take reasonable care that damage is not caused by an animal straying onto the public road.

This suggests that the landowner should take care to ensure that the land is properly fenced, gates are secure and walls are of an adequate height etc. for the animals kept there.

The Courts have taken the view that animals properly cared for should not stray onto the road and so they tend to place an onus on the animal's owner to show that they took all reasonable precautions to keep the animals off the road.

The only exception to this rule is land for which fencing is not customary, for instance upland commonage lands.

Who is liable?

The Courts have tended to hold the person in control or possession of the animal liable for the damage or injury caused by the animal in circumstances where that person is not the owner of the animal.

For example, in a 1960s case, the court decided that where a flock of sheep had been killed by beagles during a hunt, it would be the hunt organisers who are responsible for the killing of the sheep rather than the dog owners - this is because the hunt organisers were in control of the beagles at the time of the incident.

It is also important to note that persons who interfere or meddle with animals may be considered the sole cause of the injury or damage.

In those circumstances the owner of the animal would not be liable.

Typically in the case of livestock like cattle it would be the owner of the animals unless they are in the care of another farmer e.g. contract rearing.

Cattle Trespass

If cattle stray from their owner's land to another person's land the cattle owner will be liable for any damage caused.

Driving Cattle on the road

If cattle cause damage whilst they are being driven, for example, on the public road, the owner will only be liable for the damage caused if they are in some way negligent in the course of driving the cattle.

The Court may consider actions like driving too many cattle at once or failing to have adequate help present to control the animals, negligent.

It is advisable to take all reasonable precautions when moving cattle like signage etc. where appropriate to give the oncoming driver as much notice as possible of the animals presence on the road.

Although the rules in relation to liability for animals are numerous and complex it is essential that land and animal owner are aware of their duties and liabilities so as to avoid any costly occurrences.

This article is intended as a general guide only and professional advice should always be sought for individual circumstances. No liability is accepted for errors.

Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Ardrahan, Co. Galway. Contact:

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