Lady Solicitor Personal Injury Claim Lady Justice Old Bailer

Horse Riding Accidents and the Animals Act Compensation Claims

Specialist animal injury lawyer, James McNally, looks at the latest horse riding accident claims to have come before the courtsand discovers its not good news for the injured riders

In the last few months the Court of Appeal have rejected two personal injury claims relating to a fall from a horse on the basis that the accident victim had voluntarily accepted the risk.

In both Turnbull v Warrener and Goldsmith v Patchcott the Defendant relied upon s.5(2) of the Animals Act 1971 which allows a statutory defence to an accident claim if it can be shown that the person who suffered an injury had voluntarily accepted the risk. The result has been celebrated by insurers, riding establishments and horse owners who have been lobbying for clarification of earlier “Claimant friendly” Court decisions.

In Turnbull, Mrs Turnbull, the claimant,  had been riding Mrs Warrener’s horse, Gem, regularly every weekend for about four months. The week before the accident Gem was taken to the dentist and Mrs Warrener was told that he should not be ridden using a bridle with a bit for the next few days. He had never been ridden with a bitless bridle before but Mrs Turnbull was happy to ride him. After about half an hour Mrs Warrener wanted to end the riding session but Mrs Turnbull wanted a canter. As she did so Gem suddenly went right and through a gap in the hedge causing Mrs Turnbull to fall off and injure herself.

Mrs Turnbull made an Animals Act claim for compensation in respect of the horse riding accident. She lost at trial and appealed. At appeal Lord Justice Maurice Kay found in her favour in relation to s.2(2), commenting:

  1. The trial Judge should have found that the damage was of a kind which, if caused by a horse, was likely to be severe. His decision that this wasn’t the case was not supported by the evidence and was either contrary to received wisdom, or resulted from a failure to apply the correct test.
  2. The Judge should have considered whether refusing to respond to instructions given through the bitless bridle was a characteristic of horses unfamiliar with such equipment. If he had this would have resulted in the conclusion that it was such a characteristic.
  3. The finding that there was no evidence to support the view that the Defendant knew of such a characteristic was questionable.

He felt there was no statutory defence under s.5(1). This would have allowed Mrs Warrener a defence to any damage “which is due wholly to the fault of the person suffering it”. He said it would be wrong to find that the damage was all the Claimant’s fault. Either both the Claimant and the Defendant, or neither of them, were at fault in the statutory sense.

However, he decided Mrs Warrener did have a defence under s.5(2) of the Animals Act. He thought it was plain that she had voluntarily accepted the risk of injury which arose when riding a horse. He agreed with Lord Justice Jackson’scomment in the Goldsmith case that horses “act out of instinct or impulse and their precise behaviour cannot necessarily be predicted”.

So, the Court of Appeal have now made it clear that horses must be expected to behave in unpredictable ways. This will have an impact on any injury compensation claim that arises as a result of a horse behaving unpredictably.

These decisions highlight  the problems with s.2(2) of the Animals Act. Lord Justice Maurice, one of the judges involved in Turnbull described the drafting of the ’71 Act as “grotesque”. In 2009, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a consultation on the Animals Act and recommended reform but nothing has happened yet.

If You have suffered an injury that involves an animal then speak to specialist animal injury solicitor James Mcnally on 0808 139 1890 for a free assessment of your prospects of recovering injury compensation on a No Win – No Fee basis.