Legal advice with Karen Walsh: ‘Strict liability’ for stray animals

If you are a farmer and a livestock owner, you might have concerns as to what the law is in respect of cattle or sheep straying onto roadways, which may result in accidents, or cause damage to property, or personal injury.

Legal advice with Karen Walsh: ‘Strict liability’ for stray animals

If you are a farmer and a livestock owner, you might have concerns as to what the law is in respect of cattle or sheep straying onto roadways, which may result in accidents, or cause damage to property, or personal injury.

The present law imposes a “strict liability” on the owner of the animals, in many instances.

“Strict liability” means that the owner does not have a defence to a claim made by a third party, and would have to compensate the third party, even if they did not intend for the damage or injury to occur.

Whereas there would be an onus on the driver of the car to prove that the accident occurred, and that they have sued the appropriate defendant, if there is evidence that the animals were the cause of the accident, then there is a presumption of negligence on the part of the animal owner.

It is important that the owner takes reasonable care that damage is not caused by an animal straying onto the public road.

If the owner of the animals is able to show that reasonable care was taken to prevent his animals escaping onto the road, this may be used as a defence.

Animal owners are responsible for their animals, and must take reasonable care to ensure that damage is not caused by an animal straying onto the public road.

It is the responsibility of the owner of the animal to take the appropriate precautions to make sure that his or her animals do not stray onto the public road, where they could potentially cause an accident resulting in damage or injury to a third party.

The landowner should take steps to make sure that the land is properly fenced, gates are secure, and walls are of an adequate height to prevent animals from escaping or straying.

It is advisable to have adequate stock-proof fencing, and to ensure that this is maintained regularly, and replaced when required.

It also recommended to have a bolted and, where possible, locked gate in place.

When erecting fencing or a gate, the owner of the animals will have to take into account the breed of the animal and its size and nature, when taking reasonable care.

A person who is in control or possession of the animal may be liable for the damage or injury caused by the animal in circumstances where that person is not the owner of the animal.

An example of this would be a hunt, where the hunt organisers may be held responsible for damage or injury caused by animal partaking in the hunt, rather than the owners of the animals.

In respect of cattle or livestock, it is likely the owners would be held responsible unless they are under the care of another farmer.

Another potential defence to a claim, regarding damages or injury caused by animals, is that persons who interfere or meddle with animals may be considered the sole cause of the injury or damage, and therefore the owner would not be liable in those circumstances.

The owner of an animal that causes harm to a person or to property is likely be found liable, if the animal is considered dangerous by its owner, or known to be a more dangerous animal.

If this is the case, a higher standard of care applies, and if you are the owner, or in the control of animals, you should have regard to the animal’s nature, type, species, breed, development and environment.

For example, bulls would be classified as being more dangerous than sheep.

These rules are generally of relevance when moving livestock over public roadways.

It should be noted though that if cattle stray from their owner’s land to another person’s land, the cattle owner may potentially be liable for any damage caused.

Cattle may also cause damage whilst they are being driven on a public road, but the owner should only be liable for any damage caused if they are in some way negligent in the course of driving the cattle. An example of this would be not having adequate precautions in place, including providing notice to motorists, or driving too many cattle at once.

If you are faced with a claim in respect of your animals, you should potentially notify your insurer and contact a solicitor for legal advice.

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.- Email: info@walshandpartners.ie- Web: www.walshandpartners.ie

While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information contained in this article, solicitor Karen Walsh does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising, and you should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.

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