The Covid restrictions over the past year have meant more and more people have taken to walking in the countryside, but what happens if you utilise a public right of way across a field, which is being used for cows or livestock, and you then become injured as a result of being attacked by those animals? Is this something you are able to claim for?

The Animals Act 1971 enforces strict liability upon the owners of animals and sets out the framework and basis for making a claim against an animal owner where injuries have been sustained by a third party.

It splits animals into two main categories, the first category, dangerous animals and the second non-dangerous animals. Animals such as Lions and Tigers are placed in the dangerous animal’s category as the risk of injury to all persons whom come into contact with them is obvious and completely foreseeable.

The animals considered non-dangerous, such as cattle, horses and sheep, which ordinarily do not pose a significant risk to the public or persons who may come into contact with them, fall into the second category.

Injuries caused by cattle are in some instances fatal, or and cause catastrophic injuries, so just because these animals fall into the non-dangerous category does not mean they cannot be dangerous animals. Health and Safety England reported that there were 24 deaths over a five year period (2015 – 2020) which were caused by cattle and bulls, and there were 2 fatalities just months apart in Yorkshire in 2020, when members of the public were trampled by cows whilst out walking their dogs.

Some breed of cow, such as dairy cows, are known to be docile and are not seen to pose a  considerable risk of injury to the public, however, there are certain circumstances where this risk is amplified and more care must be taken by the owner of these animals to prevent the risk of injury occurring.

You could be a regular walker using a particular route which crosses the path with cattle for most of the year without cause for concern, however, even the most docile of cattle can unexpectedly become aggressive and act to protect their young during calving season.

In the case of McKaskie v Cameron 2009, a lady was severely injured as a result of an attack by cattle whilst innocently walking her dogs. She utilised a right of way over a field containing cattle when the incident happened and she was trampled by the herd of 40 cattle. The court held that Cameron had failed to foresee the obvious risk or taken the necessary steps to prevent the risk and held he was liable for her injuries.

In these circumstances, further precautions must be taken by the owner to avoid and limit the risk of harm to the public. Framers Weekly suggest tips for farmers to take in order to avoid injuries being sustained and then being subject to a claim for damages. They advise farmers to keep potentially protective mothers in a separate field which the public does not have access to, or if this isn’t possible, to create a separation of the space with temporary fencing which will allow the public to safely pass.

But it’s not solely cattle with young which can pose an increased risk to the public. As the males mature with age they can become inquisitive and aggressive and steps must be taken by the owners to prevent adolescent males from getting out of control and harming the public. If adequate steps are not taken then the owner opens themselves up to liability for any injuries sustained.

Therefore if the risk of injury is foreseeable then so is a civil lawsuit.


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