Claimant loses appeal following injury whilst riding
In the case of Kara Goldsmith v Robert Patchcott, heard in February 2012, the claimant (Mrs Goldsmith) lost her case in the Court of Appeal, after suffering severe facial injuries whilst test riding a horse with a view to purchase it.
Mrs Goldsmith had been riding a nine year old gelding (Red) which was being looked after by Mr Patchcott whilst he tried to re-home him. Mrs Goldsmith claimed to be an experienced horsewoman and was considering taking the horse. She had ridden Red on three occasions in the presence of Mr Patchcott, and without incident. During the ride on 24th March, 2008 the horse reared up and Mrs Goldsmith was thrown. She was struck by the horse’s hoof and suffered severe facial injuries.
Mrs Goldsmith claimed damages and loss of earnings, on the basis of strict liability under section 2 (2) of the Animals Act 1971. That provision imposes strict liability for damage caused by domesticated animals, if certain conditions are satisfied, irrespective of whether the keeper is at fault. The Court of Appeal decided that the requirements of Section 2 (2) were satisfied.
However, Section 5 (2) of the Act provides a defence if the damage is suffered by a person who has voluntarily accepted the risk thereof. Mrs Goldsmith argued that although she was aware Red could be startled and buck she had only accepted the risk of normal bucking rather than the violent bucking which in fact occurred. The Court rejected this narrow interpretation stating that "It was not a prerequisite of the statutory defence to strict liability under the Animals Act 1971 s.5 (2) for injuries caused by dangerous animals that the person injured should foresee the precise degree of energy with which the animal would engage in its characteristic behaviour".
In a separate incident, again resulting in a Court of Appeal ruling on strict liability under the Animals Act, judges ruled this week that riders must accept the "inherent risks" of their sport.
Nadine Turnbull, 32, may never fully recover after seven-year-old "Gem" bolted across a field and through a hedge before throwing her onto tarmac in 2006. She sued Gem's owner, Rebecca Warrener, for substantial damages, but Lord Justice Lewison told her every equestrian has to live with unexpected danger. Rejecting her claim, the judge said: "An individual who chooses to ride horses for pleasure no doubt derives enjoyment from being able to control a powerful beast. But inherent in that activity is the risk that, on occasions, the horse will not respond to its rider's instructions, or will respond in a way that the rider did not intend. That is one of the risks inherent in riding horses. That is all that happened in the present case".
Lord Justice Lewison, sitting with Lords Justice Stanley Burnton and Maurice Kay, continued: "The evidence was that riders fall off horses every day and do not sustain severe injury. Almost anyone who has ever ridden will have the experience of having fallen off a horse, getting up and remounting. I do not, with respect, regard it as self evident that a rider who falls off a rearing horse, or for that matter a cantering horse, is likely to suffer severe injury".
The court ruled that Rebecca Warrener was not liable for Nadine Turnbull’s injuries.
These rulings will set precedents for cases based on similar facts. Every case will be considered by the Courts on its specific facts and these two rulings should not be taken by any keeper of horses as absolving them from liability in all circumstances for injuries caused to a rider whilst riding or trying out a new horse. However, both remain helpful decisions for defendants.
The rulings do not dilute the duty of care owed by riding schools, instructors and livery yards to demonstrate that the rider’s experience has been evaluated, to ensure that riders and horses are matched, and that the horse is suitable for the rider.