A recent case where the part-owner of a racehorse received a claim for £14m after a work rider was injured in a fall on the gallops, has highlighted the need for all owners to have sufficient public liability cover, even if the horse is not in their day-to-day care. H&H speaks to legal experts to find out more, including how this relates to horses on loan...
Owners must ensure they have the right public liability cover in place for their horses, even if the animals are not in their care, or face “losing everything”.
Under the Animals Act 1971, “strict liability” for damage or injury caused by animals falls to their owners or keepers, both of whom could therefore face sizeable claims for compensation.
Glynn Linder found himself in this position when a rider suffered life-changing injuries in a fall from a racehorse he part-owned, and submitted a claim for £14m.
Mr Linder, who had only ever seen the horse once and was unaware there had been a fall until he was named in the claim, had public liability cover as part of his household insurance and the case settled out of court.
But he wants owners to be aware they could be liable, even if horses are not in their keeping.
“People are held responsible for an animal even if they have no involvement with it,” he told H&H. “If you’re the registered owner, you’re leaving yourself open without insurance.”
Mr Linder cited another case, of a part-owner who lost his house and was declared bankrupt after the racehorse he part-owned kicked an assistant trainer.
“They took everything,” he said. “I’m not involved with horses; I only see them run; it shows how easily you can be liable.”
Mr Linder pointed out that the same law would apply to horses on loan, and his case has made his friend Kristine Wilson reconsider.
Ms Wilson told H&H she had loaned her retired police horse to another force for public events.
“I’ve asked the force if he’s covered, and would they accept liability if there was an accident, because Glynn’s incident rang alarm bells,” she said. “He’s now withdrawn from everything until I get written confirmation on the liability when he’s out.
“This is a real wake-up call to people who loan horses out.”
Barrister Louis Weston, who specialises in the Act, told H&H claimants do not have to prove there was negligent action on the owner’s behalf if they have suffered injury. And while certain criteria have to be met, such as whether the animal concerned was acting in a way likely owing to the species’ nature, both owner and keeper may be held liable.
“This is a ludicrously badly drafted Act,” he said. “Most sensible owners know horses can spook or bolt in certain circumstances, but there’s always a risk this Act might impose strict liability.
“H&H readers need to know that if they own a horse, they don’t escape liability by loaning it to someone.”
Mr Weston said in the event of an accident, claimants will usually go for whoever has the animal in their possession. But if that person is uninsured, or insured for less than the claim, “the intelligent claimant will find out who the owner is and sue them; you want to follow the money”.
Mr Weston added that claims for life-changing injuries can be vast, especially if the victim is young as care will be needed for a long time, so claimants may “sue as many people as they can to get more insurance money in the pot”.
“If you loan a horse to someone, you need to make sure there’s high cover,” he added.
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