Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

Accidents involving animals

We have seen a number of cases recently involving animals.

Crushed by a horse

A retired primary school teacher sadly died from internal injuries after being crushed between two horses on a farm in Tonbridge, Kent. An inquest heard last week that Rosemary Turnbull suffered multiple wounds to her chest and heart as she led the animals ahead of a hunting pack. The Coroner heard that the horses were often “spooked” by the dogs and might have tried to escape during the incident. The inquest was adjourned to allow further evidence to be obtained.

Lorry driver killed as police clear badger from the road

A lorry driver crashed and was tragically killed on the A34 while police tried to clear a dead badger from the road. The inquest at Oxford Coroner’s Court heard that two lorries collided on the southbound carriageway while officers removed the animal from the road near Marcham. Police officers drove to where the badger had been seen and pulled their car up across the carriageway in front of the animal. One lorry driver said he was slowing down to stop behind another vehicle when a second lorry crashed into him from behind.

Passengers seriously injured as driver swerves to avoid an animal in the road

Passengers were seriously injured in a road accident when the driver of the car swerved to avoid colliding with an animal in the road and her vehicle crashed into a ditch. A boy suffered serious head injuries, a girl suffered a broken arm and another female passenger suffered a fracture to the base of her spine, a pelvic fracture and concussion.

The driver admitted careless driving (not paying attention to the road ahead), but denied dangerous driving. She claimed she thought there was something in the road, either a fox, a dead animal or another obstruction in the way.

The law

In looking at legal liability in such cases, the rule is that road users owe a duty of care to fellow users and will be liable in negligence to compensate them if a breach of that duty causes injury and loss.

UK law has not followed the example of other European jurisdictions where an element of strict liability (ie, no fault) has been introduced for road accidents. The mere fact that a collision has occurred will not justify imposing liability in the absence of evidence of negligence.

Although the courts rightly insist on a high level of care being exercised, it does not mean a road user is negligent in failing to anticipate all foreseeable possibilities. For example, if a driver of a vehicle swerves to avoid a collision when suddenly confronted by a vehicle or loose animal in the ‘agony of the moment’, he cannot be blamed for his action or be found negligent. Courts will grant a defendant a degree of latitude in their responses under the pressure of impending injury.

Establishing negligence in road accident cases is largely a matter of common sense.

The starting point for a common-sense approach to fault is the Highway Code. The Road Traffic Act 1988 provides that failure to observe a provision of the Code may be relied on to establish liability. But the Code is only guidance and failure to comply with it will not necessarily mean that the defendant has been negligent and conversely, compliance with the Code will not necessarily absolve the defendant.

The particular circumstances rather than the general guidance of the Code may be the determining factor. The most helpful guidance as to what is required to establish negligence is by examining the case law concerning accidents involving animals.

If you wish to discuss any issues relating to an accident claim, please contact Lee Hart.