Animals and the Law

Posted: 23rd June 2011

Damage by animals is not common, in spite of the lurid headlines one sees in the popular press. However, if your animal does cause damage or injury to someone else, what is the extent of your liability?

The relevant law is contained in the Animals Act 1971. This stipulates that if the animal concerned is not a domesticated animal, you will be liable for any damage or injury it causes – so make sure your pet tiger doesn’t escape!
However, if damage is caused by a domesticated animal, the situation is more complex.
There are three tests that determine the liability of the owner of the animal. These are:
  1. Is the damage the sort of thing which is likely to occur if the animal is left unrestrained or is likely to be severe if the animal is unrestrained?
  2. Is the damage caused by the animal due to a characteristic of the animal which is not normally found in the species (which is interpreted in case law as applying to breeds, rather then species as such)? and
  3. Does the animal’s keeper have knowledge of the characteristic of the animal which is at the root of the damage?
The main problem for animal owners is that the phrase ‘likely to occur’ in this context is taken to mean ‘foreseeable’, which is a less stringent test.