Lynch v Ed Walker Racing Ltd QBD (Langstaff J), [2017]

The facts

The claimant was employed as a stable boy by the defendant and had been riding a young male horse in a string of nine race horses along a track beside a road. The horses were ‘spooked’ by something which caused them to whip around. The horse that the claimant was riding whipped left and then right and lost its footing causing it to fall over. As a result, the claimant fell off the horse, hit his head and was knocked unconscious.

The claimant pursued a claim against the defendant alleging that they were in breach of section 2(2) of the Animals Act 1971, which has three criteria which must be satisfied in order for liability to attach.

These are:-

  • Section 2(2)(a) - the damage is of a kind which the particular animal, unless restrained, either is likely to cause or if caused is likely to be severe;

  • Section 2(2)(b) - such likelihood is due to the characteristics of the particular animal not normally found in animals of the same species or not so except at certain times or in certain circumstances; and

  • Section 2(2)(c) - the characteristics were known to the keeper.

In this case, sections 2(2)(b) and 2(2)(c) were satisfied but section 2(2)(a) was in issue. The claimant said that it was obvious that if a young male race horse was ‘spooked’ and whipped around that some form of personal injury might happen. It was also alleged that if injury was caused as a result of this happening, then it was likely be severe.

Decision

The claim was dismissed at first instance and the claimant appealed against this dismissal and the finding that they had failed to satisfy either limb of section 2(2)(a) of the Animals Act 1971.

The High Court stated that the fact that a rider would usually be able to step off a horse when it whipped around and fell over, led to the conclusion that it was unlikely that a rider would suffer serious harm. Also the judge had looked at all of the facts of the case and could have been referring to the severity of the injury not being likely when concluding that it was not common for this type of fall to happen.

The High Court noted that the judge had emphasised the speed, seriousness and severity of the accident which addressed the likelihood of the accident occurring along with the likely severity of injury if such an accident occurred.

It was made clear that it was up to the claimant to prove their case and that if an injury occurred, it would be severe. The High Court noted that the claimant was simply relying on the circumstances of the accident and had no further evidence to satisfy section 2(2)(a) of the Animals Act 1971.

Although there were reservations concerning the judge’s approach to section 2(2)(a) of the Animals Act 1971, the judge had the discretion to come to the decision that if an accident had occurred of this nature then it was unlikely to be severe.

What this means for you

This is an interesting case where the High Court considered the criteria under section 2(2)(a) of the Animals Act 1971. In this specific case, it is arguable that if the type of accident had occurred then the likelihood of injury would have been severe, but the High Court made clear that the judge had seen and heard the evidence and had the discretion to come to the decision which they had. Further, it appears that the claimant had failed to provide any other evidence, such as expert evidence, to support their case and simply relied on the fact that the accident had occurred.

It should be noted that liability would have probably attached had the claimant been able to show that the severity of injury, as a result of the horse having whipped around, would have likely been severe. This case demonstrates that the three limbs under section 2(2) of the Animals Act 1971 will be carefully considered against the specific facts of each case. Also it is up to a claimant to show that all three limbs have been satisfied and if they are, then strict liability attaches unless there is a defence under section 5 of the Act.

This case can be compared with the Court of Appeal case of Marian Freeman v Higher Park Farm [2008] EWCA Civ 1185, where it was held to be reasonably expected that severe injury would result if a horse bucked on beginning to canter so that the rider fell off. It is perhaps the case that severe injury could be caused from a rider falling from a horse during it being whipped around. However, there was no expert evidence in respect of this point and the High Court accepted the judge’s finding that often this type of scenario happens when a rider is trying to step off a horse.