Guest Post - What should you do if your horse injures another person?
Protecting you and your horse during legal battles will always be a stressful time, and it’s very hard to find easily accessible advice in a situation like this. Legalexpert.co.uk are at hand to provide you with some free guidance, should you experience a situation where your horse has caused harm to another person.
What should you do if your horse injures another person?
Everyone who spends time around horses knows that they can be dangerous. A horse is a powerful animal with a mind of its own—and sometimes a bit of a temper, too. Most riders accept that there’s a certain amount of risk involved in handling horses, and for many of us managing that risk and the temperament of our horses is part of what makes equestrian life so engaging.
At the same time, you can only accept risk for yourself. No-one wants to be responsible for an injury to another person, but with an animal as difficult to control as a horse, there’s always an element of unpredictability. Horses can escape, make bad decisions for themselves, or encounter a situation which makes them panic. You can’t rely on other people to be as careful as you are with your horse. It doesn’t matter how well you handle your horse if they come into contact with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
If you find yourself in a situation where your horse has injured another person, your first reaction is likely to be panic, guilt (even if you’re not really responsible), concern for the person who is hurt and concern for your horse too. It’s not easy to make good decisions under those circumstances. That’s why it’s important to prepare in advance for the unavoidable possibility that your horse might hurt someone else.
How do injuries happen?
Your horse always has the potential to injure another person. The fact that your horse has always been calm in a particular place or with a particular person in the past doesn’t mean that something won’t spook them tomorrow. In fact, a common cause of injury is riders’ complacency. Your horse is in its familiar stable, where it’s never looked like hurting anyone, so you stop concentrating, and that’s when accidents happen.
That said, by far the greatest risk of injury arises when you take your horse into an unfamiliar situation or expose your horse to unfamiliar people. The danger is more obvious at busy events where there are lots of people: horse shows, hunt meetings, gymkhanas and all the other events which are part of equestrian life. In other situations the danger is less immediately apparent, so you might be less prepared to anticipate and avoid it. For instance, if you’re selling a horse, you don’t know whether the person who arrives to inspect your horse is an experienced rider or not. What you do know is that they’re going to be someone your horse isn’t familiar with and might react badly to. Before you allow anyone to ride your horse, you should inform them fully about your horse’s character and history.
Seek legal advice
In the immediate aftermath of your horse injuring someone, your concern will be for the injured person and for the horse. As soon as the situation is under control, you should give a thought to your legal position.
As with all legal matters, the best thing to do is to seek professional legal advice at the earliest opportunity. There are many solicitors’ firms with experience in equine liability, and for some firms, it’s a specialism.
Without speaking to a lawyer and preferably a specialist, it’s very difficult to know whether you’re potentially liable to a lawsuit or not. That’s because there are two ways, legally speaking, that you can be found negligent, and one of them is specific to the risks of keeping animals.
“Ordinary” negligence is fairly straightforward. If you fail to tell a rider that your horse kicks, and then it kicks, you’ve been negligent. If you leave the stable door unbolted and your horse runs into the road and causes an accident, it’s hard to argue that you haven’t been negligent. If you’re a sensible horse-owner, you probably aren’t going to find yourself in a situation like this.
However, under the Animals Act 1971, you can still be sued for negligence when your horse injures another person even if you haven’t been negligent in such an obvious way. The law is complicated, though, and your liability will depend on the exact circumstances of the injury, so again, seek legal advice as soon as you can.
Until you have spoken to a lawyer, try to avoid discussing the circumstances of the injury in public. It’s tempting to talk to your friends or ask for advice in online forums, but this is best avoided. When your horse injures someone you’re likely to feel responsible and it’s only natural to apologise. However, you’ll be in a stronger position if you don’t offer apologies for any specific oversight, or do anything else to admit that you’re at fault.
If you’re found to be legally liable, you may have to pay a significant amount of personal injury compensation. The amount will depend on a number of factors, but the main factor is the severity of the injury. If your horse causes someone to suffer a head injury, compensation could run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. You may also be liable to pay the victim’s legal fees. In short, you could be looking at a very hefty bill.
Check your insurance policy
If you’re found liable for an injury caused by your horse and ordered to pay compensation, you’ll have to pay it yourself unless you have an insurance policy which covers the specific situation which lead to the injury. Some horse owners assume that household insurance will cover them, but many household policies don’t. In fact, many household policies specifically exclude liabilities arising from livestock. Even insurance policies which specifically cover you against equine liability may not cover every situation. Don’t assume you’re covered. Check your policy carefully and if necessary seek expert advice.
If you own horses (or even if you just work with them) it’s a very good idea to have comprehensive insurance that specifically covers you against all forms of equine liability. The reality is that you can’t ever entirely protect yourself from the possibility of your horse causing an injury. All you can do is protect yourself from the consequences.