Legal advice with Karen Walsh: ‘My neighbour’s cattle broke in’

Dear Karen,

My neighbour’s cattle broke into the front yard and garden when I was away, recently. They rang me when it happened, and told me they had taken the cattle out of it. But when I got home, I found all the flower beds and lawn ruined.

Shrubs had been pulled up, and the lawn is full of holes from them trampling it, and generally dug up.

My neighbour has offered to roll the land, and give me €200 towards new shrubs.

But I don’t think this is enough.

I think that all the plants that have been damaged should be replaced, and the lawn reseeded and rolled etc, which will come to more than €200.

What can I do?

Dear Reader,

It is unfortunate that this has happened.

However, it is not an unusual occurrence in the countryside.

It was honourable that your neighbour informed you directly about this incident.

The basic position of the law is that the owner of cattle who trespass, of their own volition, from their owner’s land on to that of their neighbour’s land is liable, irrespective of any negligence.

The law recognises “cattle” to include sheep, horses, goats, pigs, asses, domestic fowl and domesticated deer.

It exclusively does not include dogs, cats or wild animals.

It is not clear from the information you have furnished to me as to whether the owner was driving the cattle, or the cattle went on to your land of their own volition.

Cattle who stray onto your land of their own volition, that is, not driven on to it, are treated differently, depending on the circumstances.

You would have to prove negligence of the owner if they were being lawfully driven on the public highway, and the owner of the cattle would be liable for the damage caused by the cattle.

Given that the owner of the cattle contacted you to advise that the cattle had broken on to the land, you will have to quantify the damage done to your property.

This damage may be recoverable if you were to bring an action in court.

In the event that you recover on the basis that it is a wrong against land, you can only recover for damage caused to your land and crops, and not for any other damage.

The premise of recovery, what is called, a tortious claim (French for “civil wrong”) provides for compensation for any wrong done.

You say that the lawn and flower beds have been damaged, that the shrubs have been pulled up, and the farmer has offered to roll the lawn and give you €200 towards new shrubs.

You are entitled to compensation for the damage done, and therefore you ought not to be liable for any out of pocket expenses or costs yourself.

Try to keep relations amicable with your neighbour as, after this has been resolved, you will still be living near each other.

A starting point is to take some photographs of the damage, then measure the flower beds and take an account of the type and age of shrubs requiring to be replaced.

You should then contact a garden centre or nursery and get a quotation or an estimate of similar shrubs and plants required for similar cover in the beds.

Similarly, measure the lawn, contact a contractor, and ask for an estimate or quotation to carry out spiking, rolling and re-seeding.

Bring the two estimates/quotations to the neighbour, and see if he will agree to discharge the amounts.

Alternatively, get the work done if he agrees.

You may be better off getting an independent contractor to do any works (rolling, seeding, etc) rather than him carrying out all or some of the works directly.

It may also be the case that the fencing or ditch between the properties may require remedial works to be carried out to prevent the issue happening again.

If it is a shared fence or ditch, then maybe you can agree with the neighbour to share the cost of that work.

In the event that the cattle owner does not agree, contact a solicitor and ask him or her to consider taking an action against the cattle owner for cattle trespass.

Remember that the Small Claims Court (an office within the District Court which does not necessitate a formal court process and associated legal fees) allows for a paper application, together with a small fee, for a claimant to make a claim for up to a limit of €2,000.

This may be done by yourself.

The Small Claims Court procedure and forms are available online at the website.

- Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.



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