The case also reiterates the importance of insurance for horse and livestock owners, says partner

A new judgment from the High Court has confirmed that the owner of an animal that escapes into traffic and causes an accident will not always be strictly liable for the animal’s actions.

The judgment, handed down last week (3 October 2022), is positive news for insurers as they will not automatically be rendered liable for the actions of an insured animal that escapes onto a road and causes an accident.

According to the court’s judgment in the cause of Schoultz v Ball and Others, unless an escaped animal has been frightened or panicked into acting erratically, the animal’s owner may not be found strictly liable under section 2.2 of the Animals Act 1971.

The case arose from a motor accident in 2015 when Sofia Schoultz suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of her vehicle’s collision with an escaped horse.

Law firm Clyde and Co – which acted in the case for the insurer of the owner of the horse Vicki Ball – explained that the judgment confirmed that claimants needed to demonstrate that an animal was displaying “an abnormal characteristic” such as fright or panic in order to claim successfully under the Animals Act.

Clare Garnett, partner at Clyde and Co, said: “This judgment is particularly encouraging for both animal owners and their insurers.

“What it means is the mere fact that your horse or animal escaped from a commercial facility such as a stable in which you had confidence does not automatically render you liable if it is then involved in an accident on the highway.”

Context is king

Garnett added that the judgment made clear that claims of this nature were now dependent on the circumstances leading to the accident, including the behaviours of the animals and any external stimulus acting on them.

She explained: “If animals such as cows, dogs, foxes or deer are found to be on the road and cause an accident by mere result of them being there, claimants will no longer have a smooth route to recovery in law.

“Importantly, this case reiterates the importance of insurance for horse and livestock owners.”