Goldsmith v Patchcott 27.02.12
Horse rider who suffered a serious injury in a fall could not recover damages under the Animals Act 1971; Court of Appeal agrees she had voluntarily accepted the risk of injury.
This judgment gives equestrian establishments, and individuals in the business of selling horses, very welcome increased protection against claimants making claims for injury sustained as a result of having been unseated or fallen off a horse belonging to another. In this particular case, the Claimant had been made aware by the horse’s keeper that the horse was not a novice ride. The Court of Appeal found that, whilst she did not anticipate the degree to which the horse bucked, she was aware of the risk and knowingly continued to try the horse. To reap the benefits of a s.5(2) Animals Act defence, potential defendants should make the particular horse’s characteristics known to a prospective buyer or rider and make enquiries as to the standard of their riding.
The case is an example of the complexities involved in applying the provisions of the Animals Act and, in particular, s.2(2). In his judgment, Lord Justice Jackson commented that “the language of section 2(2) is both oracular and opaque. Judges and jurists have spent the last forty years seeking to elucidate its meaning.”
Back in 2009, Kennedys responded to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) consultation on the Act. We agreed with the Government that there is a case for amending s.2, and put forward our own proposed wording in this regard. However, no changes have so far resulted from this consultation.
In March 2008 Mr Patchcott was looking after a horse, Red, for its owner. He was trying to find someone to whom he could give the horse. Mr Patchcott was introduced to Mrs Goldsmith, who rode Red in his company. On 24 March 2008 she went for a ride on Red by herself. During the ride something startled Red and made him rear up and buck violently. Mrs Goldsmith was thrown to the ground and then struck by Red’s hoof. She suffered severe facial injuries.
At first instance, His Honour Judge Walton found that the requirements of s.2(2)(b) of the Animals Act were satisfied, on the basis that rearing and bucking when startled or alarmed is a normal characteristic of horses in particular circumstances. However, he held that Mr Patchcott had a defence under s.5(2), on the basis that Mrs Goldsmith was aware of the risk that Red would rear and buck if startled or alarmed and so had voluntarily accepted the risk of injury.
The leading judgment in the Court of Appeal was given by Jackson LJ. Whilst the central ground of appeal related to the finding under s.5(2), the judgment includes a helpful review of the law in relation to s.2(2). Jackson LJ agreed with the trial Judge that the requirements of s.2(2)(b) were satisfied in this case.
In relation to s.5(2), relevant case law was reviewed, including Freeman v Higher Park Farm . Jackson LJ concluded that if a claimant, knowing of the risk which subsequently eventuates, proceeds to engage with the animal, his claim will fail. It is not necessary that the claimant should foresee the precise degree of energy with which the animal will engage in its characteristic behaviour. The fact that Red bucked more violently than anticipated could not take the case outside s.5(2). On this basis the claim failed.