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Court Success: A welcome result for keepers of animals

At a glance

  • Zurich welcomes the court success of Rebecca Mock v Mullacott Equestrian Centre Ltd (Exeter County Court)
  • Deputy District Judge Salter dismissed the claimant’s claim for personal injury damages
  • This case is useful when considering the strict liability imposed on keepers of animals under Section 2(1) of the Animals Act 1971

Zurich welcomes the court success of Rebecca Mock v Mullacott Equestrian Centre Ltd (Exeter County Court).

Deputy District Judge Salter, in dismissing the claimant’s claim for personal injury damages, held that the defendant equine centre had taken all steps it could reasonably have taken in securing the claimant’s safety while on an organised hack and that there had to be some voluntary acceptance of risk in a relatively risky sporting activity.

The facts

The claimant’s claim arose out of an accident that occurred on 5 August 2014. The claimant had booked a place on a supervised group hack with the defendant. Ten minutes into the hack, the claimant alleged that her horse came out of the group and ran across the field unchecked, causing her to fall, twist her ankle and hit her head. The claimant, while shaken, was content to continue with the hack and was assigned a different horse. However, the claimant alleged that the second horse cantered out of line with the other horses across the field and that she could not regain control. The claimant fell and caught her foot in the stirrup, suffering an injury to her foot, back and shoulders.

The claimant alleged that she advised the defendant she had ridden many years before, but not to any significant standard. However, the claimant had completed a disclaimer form for the defendant stating she had been riding for 10 years and was able to control a horse at all paces, including a gallop. The claimant denied completing the disclaimer in this way and alleged that she had completed a form in which she expressly stated that she did not want to go any faster than a ‘light trot’. The claimant alleged that the defendant was negligent in failing to supervise her properly, failing to consider her lack of riding experience, failing to have regard to the disclaimer form and allocating horses which were unsuitable for the claimant to ride by reason of their age and temperament.

However, the defendant denied liability on the basis that the horses were perfectly suitable and the accident had occurred as a result of the claimant failing to follow instructions, overstating her riding ability and choosing to ride with the more advanced group rather than with the beginners group.

The court’s decision

Deputy District Judge Salter, preferring the evidence of the defendant, dismissed the claimant’s claim. In relation to the disclaimer form, whilst Deputy District Judge Salter had some concerns over its contents and, in particular, why the claimant would have stated that she had 10 years’ experience when she did not, on balance held that it had to be accepted at face value. In any event, Deputy District Judge Salter held that the disclaimer did not make much difference to whether the claimant was an experienced rider or not when it came to the happening of the accident.

The burden was upon the claimant to prove that the defendant had failed to take all reasonable care in the circumstances which led to the accident. Deputy District Judge Salter held that the defendant had taken all reasonable care, evidenced by it providing five escorts to accompany the claimant on her ride. The defendant had also ensured that the claimant was content to trot and canter and ensured her safety throughout the hack. Deputy District Judge Salter in particular stated that the claimant had consented to trotting and cantering and there had to be some voluntary acceptance of the risk in a relatively risky sporting activity.

This case is useful when considering the strict liability imposed on keepers of animals under Section 2(1) of the Animals Act 1971. This provision imposes strict liability upon the keeper of the dangerous animal for any harm which may have been caused by that animal regardless of whether the keeper or owner was at fault. However, Section 5(2) of the Act provides a defence in circumstances where the person who suffered damage voluntarily accepted the risk thereof. This is something which was accepted by the court in this case.

This case also acts as a reminder that just because the Animals Act 1971 imposes strict liability on the keeper of animals, thorough investigation during the claims process, coupled with adequate documentary evidence may well be sufficient to succeed with the defence provided under section 5(2) of the Act.

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