Liability for Animals

People who keep animals whether they are dangerous or non-dangerous animals are under a duty of care to prevent harm to other people by their animals.

This is a civil liability and is governed by the law of tort meaning that it is concerned with a dispute between two parties, in this case between two individuals and is therefore governed by a civil court.


If the keeper of a certain animal is negligent in the looking after or restraining of that animal and this then causes damage to another person or their property then the keeper will be liable to that other person through the tort of negligence.

As is the case with all negligence claims the following elements will need to be present:

  • Duty of Care
  • Breach of the Duty
  • Causation
  • Damage or Injury

Using the common law tort of negligence it is possible to establish a breach when concerned with the keeper of an animal. There is however specific legislation set down concerning liability for animals which is the preferable route to establish a claim.

Animals Act 1971

The Animals Act 1971 provides a distinction between dangerous and non dangerous species.

Dangerous Species

Section 2(1) of the Animals Act 1971 states that where damage is caused by an animal which belongs to a dangerous species, any person who is a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage expect as specifically provided for by the Act.

Strict Liability

Under Section 2(1) of the Animals Act 1971 the keeper of the dangerous animal is strictly liable for any harm which may have been caused by that animal regardless of whether the keeper or owner was at fault.

Dangerous Species

A dangerous species is one which:

  • Is not commonly domesticated in the British Isles and
  • Which, when fully grown, unless restrained, is either likely to cause severe damage or is such that any damage which it does cause is likely to be severe.

Keeper of the animal

The keeper of the animal is defined by the Act as the following:

  • The owner is in possession
  • The head of the household if the owner is under 16 years old
  • An existing keeper who loses ownership or possession, until there is a new keeper.

A common misconception when dealing with the strict liability under the Animals Act 1971 is that the damage caused has to be that which is usually associated with that animal for example biting or gorging.

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For more information on:

  • The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976
  • Non-Dangerous Species
  • Animals Act 1971 (Amendment) Bill
  • Defences
  • Contributory Negligence
  • Volenti
  • Trespassers