Lawyers are warning that an unusual court case could lead to all the UK's 12 million pet-owners becoming liable for their furry friends' wayward behaviour.

Their fears follow a High Court ruling last week that found Katherine Barbour was negligent after her Alsation dog Jess escaped from her home and caused a motorcyclist to crash.

This was despite the Barbour having wire netting surrounding her garden to prevent the dog escaping.

The motorcyclist, Andrew Tierney, suffered serious head injuries. He was driving his 900cc Honda Fireblade at 60mph in a 20mph zone and had just done a wheelie.

The court ruled that Barbour was responsible for her Alsatian's behaviour, leaving her open to a claim for thousands of pounds of damages.

Lawyers' groups now believe that compulsory insurance for pets may be the only way to safeguard owners against expensive compensation claims in the future.

Some household insurance policies do cover domestic animals, but out of the seven million dog-owners in this country, only 12% currently have a separate pet policy.

Andrew Parker, president of the Forum Of Insurance Lawyers, said: “People should have some kind of insurance for the liability of having an animal.”

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers added: “There should be a requirement for compulsory insurance if people own any kind of animal.”

Katharine Watson, public relations executive of Direct Line, which offers animal cover, said: “This is a message about the importance of having pet insurance. There are cases where it does cost money to have a pet.”

Malcolm Tarling, spokesman for the Association of British Insurers, said: “It is an unusual case but everyone should think long and hard about the expenses of keeping a pet, and insurance should be seen as something which is almost essential.”