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The British Horse Society

Law Lords decision highlights the benefit of British Horse Society membership

A decision by the Law Lords last week (Thursday 20 March) to dismiss an appeal by a horse owning couple after their animals escaped from their field onto a road, causing severe injuries to a driver when they collided with his car, could have a major effect on insurance cover. The decision, that the couple were liable and now face a potentially substantial compensation claim, has highlighted the need for effective public liability insurance for horses, available under the British Horse Society's Gold membership scheme.

The Law Lords upheld an earlier decision in the Appeal Court whereby, although the owners were not negligent, under the 1971 Animals Act they were deemed liable for their horses' behaviour. Although the horses were kept in a well-fenced field they were frightened by an unknown source and managed to break out, fleeing onto the busy A380 Torquay to Exeter road at midnight in August 1996. Two of the three horses collided with vehicles, one causing the vehicle to be written off but not causing injury to the occupants. The other horse collided with a car driven by hotel manager Hossein Mirvahedy, resulting in Mr Mirvahedy suffering severe facial injuries. Both horses were killed in the collisions; the third horse was safely caught and put in a field nearby where he was collected the following morning by his owners.

The 3-2 decision last week was based on the Law Lords' interpretation of the Act which states that the keeper of the animal which does not belong to a dangerous species is liable for damage caused by characteristics not normally found in the species except at certain times or in particular circumstances. Lords Nicholls, Hobhouse and Walker reached the decision that although the horses' behaviour was not normal for the species, it was in this particular instance - their state of panic. Lords Slynn and Scott disagreed, saying that strict liability should not apply to the keeper of an animal that is not normally dangerous.

The ruling could make liability insurance cover even more difficult for owners to obtain. South Essex Insurance Brokers organises the public liability cover which comes free of charge with Gold Membership of the British Horse Society. Managing director Barry Fehler has been following the legal proceedings closely and says:

"This emphasises yet again how important public liability cover is to BHS members and everyone. But this ruling could have far reaching repercussions, amongst them an increase in premiums as the number of claims rises."


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