A herd of cows have strayed into my garden and have caused damage. What are my rights?

What liability does the owner of the cows have?

Cows come under the definition of “livestock”. The Animals Act 1971 makes an owner or person in possession of livestock “strictly liable” for any damage caused by their livestock trespassing on land owned or occupied by another.

What does “strictly liable” mean?

Where a person is “strictly liable” they are liable even if they are not at fault. The fact that a person may have taken all possible precautions will not amount to a valid Defence.

What amounts to trespass?

A trespass will occur where any part of the animal crosses the boundary of the properties. For example, where a cow simply stretches its neck over a boundary fence a trespass will take place.

What damage will the owner or person in possession of livestock be liable for?

Where the owner, or person in possession, of livestock is liable, they will be liable for any damage caused by the animal to the land or any property on the land. For example, the owner or person in possession of the cow will be liable for the cost of reinstating the garden damaged by the cow.

The owner, or person in possession of the animal, will also be liable for any reasonable expenses incurred by the owner or occupier of the land onto which the animal has trespassed in keeping the animal. This will include any expenses incurred between the time when the cow enters the garden and the time when it is returned to or collected by its owner or while a right of detention is being exercised.

The owner, or person in possession, of the animal will be liable for any death or personal injury resulting from the trespass.

In what circumstances will the owner of livestock have a Defence?

If the owner, or person in possession, of the livestock can show that the owner or occupier of the land onto which the animal strayed gave permission for the animal to cross the boundary then this will provide the owner or person in possession of the animal with a good defence.

An owner, or person in possession, of livestock will not be “strictly liable” for any damage resulting from the trespass of the animal where the animal strayed from a highway and it was lawful for the animal to be on the highway in the first place. That does not necessarily mean that they will escape liability. In such circumstances the owner or occupier of the land upon which the animal strayed will have to prove that the owner or person in possession of the animal was negligent. However, the owner or person in possession of the animal may still be “strictly liable” for any damage if he unreasonably delayed in collecting the animal.

An owner, or person in possession, of livestock will not be liable for any damage where such damage was wholly due to the fault of the owner or occupier of the land onto which the animal strayed. The owner or occupier of the land onto which the animal strayed will not be regarded as being at fault by reason of the fact that he could have prevented the damage, for example by fencing the land.

An owner, or person in possession, of livestock will not be liable for any damage if he can show that the animal would not have strayed onto the land in question had it not been for a breach by another land owner or occupier of a duty to fence land.

An owner, or person in possession, of livestock may have a Defence if the trespass resulted from an act of god, for example where during a storm a tree falls onto a fence.

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For more information on:

  • What remedies do I have if a cow strays onto my land?
  • Claims for damage
  • The right to detain trespassing livestock
  • The right to sell detained livestock
  • What if the cows continually stray onto my land?