Bodey v Hall

[2011] EWHC 2162 (QB)

Animals Act claim arising from accident in pony and trap fails due to voluntary assumption of risk

The claimant (C) was travelling as a passenger or groom in a pony and trap driven by the defendant (D). C and D had ridden out on approximately seven occasions before the accident with C as the groom in the trap. C knew the horse (Pepper) having had it in her care for some time before D bought Pepper.

On the day of the accident, Pepper became startled for a reason unknown and shot forwards rapidly, causing the trap to tilt or tip and for both C and D to be thrown from the trap onto the ground. C suffered severe head injury. The claim proceeded under the Animals Act 1971. The negligence pleading was dropped after it was conceded that there was nothing wrong with D’s driving of the trap or control of Pepper.

High Court held

  • It was first necessary to consider whether the second limb in section 2(2)(a) Animals Act 1971 (‘the 1971 Act’) was met, ie that the damage, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe. It was right to consider the circumstances of the accident. Cummings v Grainger [1977], Curtis v Betts [1990], Smith v Ainger (1990) and Welsh v Stokes [2007] considered. The court found that the type of injury caused to riders on a pony and trap when a horse bolts is likely to be severe.
  • Was the second limb of section 2(2)(b) also satisfied? The predisposition of a horse to behave unpredictably by running away when confronted by unknown stimulus could be identified as a characteristic that was normal behaviour in horses ‘at particular times or in particular circumstances’.
  • The parties agreed that D had knowledge of the horse’s characteristic as Pepper’s keeper to satisfy section 2(2)(c).
  • However, D could rely on the statutory exception in section 5(2). C was an experienced horsewoman fully aware of the risk of injury posed by the trap tilting or tipping. She voluntarily accepted the risk when she agreed to act as D’s groom. There was no specific risk attached to the horse of which she should have been made aware.
  • D had made an informed decision not to wear a riding hat. On the day, she had forgotten her hat but had decided to continue with the ride. However, the court held that, even if section 5(2) had not applied, C would not have been contributorily negligent by her failure to wear a hat. There are different schools of thought as to riding hats whilst carriage driving and no clear rules or guidance.

Comment

This case reinforces two principles in horse cases:

  • The tendency of a horse to act unpredictably when alarmed is a normal characteristic of horses in particular circumstances for the purposes of section 2(2)(b). The court refused to accept a distinction between horses who bolt as opposed to those who buck or rear up.
  • The likelihood of severe damage under section 2(2)(a) includes the likelihood in the context of the circumstances of the accident, not just whether the horse itself is likely to cause severe damage.