Many people are attacked in the UK each year by animals which are kept as pets. An owner of an animal has a responsibility regarding the behaviour of the animal concerned and, if the animal attacks somebody, the owner may be liable for the damage done.
There are many different legal avenues through which you may be able to claim compensation in regard to damage caused by an animal. With this in mind, it is always best to visit a solicitor before taking any action in order to find out which avenue provides the most likely success.
Animals Act 1971
The Animals Act was introduced in 1971 in order to impose strict liability on owners of animals that cause injury and damage to others.
Broadly speaking, the act separated animals into two distinct types:
- Dangerous animals
- Non-dangerous animals
Known dangerous animals (e.g. a tiger) are a clear threat if not kept somewhere where it is unable to cause damage. Therefore, if a tiger were to escape from a zoo and cause damage, the zoo owners would be liable for the damage caused.
The test becomes slightly more difficult for non-dangerous animals since in order to bring a claim for damage under the Animals Act you would have to show the following:
- The damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe
- The likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances
- Those characteristic were known to the animal owner, or the person who at the time had charge of the animal
All three criteria must be shown in order to bring a claim under the act for a non-dangerous animal. Given the potentially ambiguous nature of the second criterion and subjective element of the third criterion, it is always best to contact a solicitor if you are considering this route.
Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
In addition to this act there are, of course, several other acts which are more animal specific, such as the Dangerous Dogs Act. These types of acts will categorise those dogs that are deemed to be dangerous and the public need protection from.
Other claims against animal owners
One should not forget however that these specific acts in regard to animals are available in addition to common law remedies such as:
- Nuisance – the common law tort of nuisance may be actionable if a particular animal is causing a significant and persistent noise or smell
- Trespass – the common law remedy of trespass is clearly available if the particular animals are straying on to your land
- Occupier’s liability – If you go on to somebody’s property with their permission then they have a duty of care in regard to your safety whilst you are there. If cautions are not taken against animals on the property you may be able to bring a claim
- Negligence – If somebody has failed to take reasonable care and the damage caused by the animal is reasonably foreseeable you may have a claim
Defences for animal owners
There are, of cause, some defences that an animal owner may raise, these often include provoking the animal and trespassing onto the animal owner’s land.
Claims against animals can be a murky area and legal advice from a solicitor should be sought at an early stage.