Can a horse rider be liable for a road traffic accident caused by their horse?

What is the law that relates to the liability of horse riders in relation to road traffic accidents?

There is no specific legislation which relates to the liability of horse riders in relation to road traffic accidents. The law of negligence will, therefore, apply to the horse rider in such circumstances.

What amounts to negligence?

In order to establish negligence the following elements must be present:

  • duty of care;
  • breach of that duty;
  • causation;
  • loss.

Duty of care

It is established law that horse riders owe a duty of care to other road users. This duty extends to other riders, pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle drivers. With this in mind it is often recommended that riders take the British Horse Society’s road proficiency test before riding on the road.

Breach of the duty of care

As it is established law that horse riders owe a duty of care to other road users it is necessary to consider whether that duty was breached in a particular case. When deciding whether a person breached the duty of care the Courts apply both a subjective and an objective test. In doing so the Court will consider whether the horse rider knew that there was a risk of the accident occurring and whether a reasonable horse rider in the same situation would have realised that there was a risk of the accident occurring.

The Court will consider, where appropriate, whether the horse rider was breaking the law when the accident took place. For example, it is a criminal offence to wilfully ride on a footpath or causeway by the side of the road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers. This will, therefore, be relevant if the accident took place on a pavement for example. Failure to comply with the law will ordinarily be enough in order to establish breach of the duty of care.

The Court will also take into account the provisions of the Highway Code. Whilst the majority of the provisions contained in the Highway Code are not legal requirements the Court will take them into account when deciding whether a horse rider breached the duty of care. Specifically the Court will, where appropriate, consider the following matters:

  • What time of day the accident took place. The Highway Code advises riders that it is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility.
  • Whether for the time of day or weather conditions the horse rider and the horse was wearing suitable clothing. The Highway Code advises horse riders to wear light-coloured or fluorescent clothing in daylight and reflective clothing when riding at night or in poor visibility. The Highway Code also advises that horses wear reflective bands above the fetlock joints when being ridden at night or in poor visibility and that a light which shows white to the front and red to the rear be fitted, with a band to the rider’s right arm and/ or their leg or riding boot.
  • Whether the tack fitted the horse well and was in good condition and whether the horse was being ridden with a saddle and bridle.
  • What action the horse rider had taken to satisfy him self that he would be able to control the horse before taking it out on the road.
  • What action the horse rider had taken to satisfy him self that the horse would not be nervous with traffic. The Highway Code advises riders who think that their horse will be nervous of traffic to ride with other less nervous horses.
  • Whether the horse rider looked behind him, before riding off or turning and whether he gave a clear arm signal to indicate that he was riding off or turning.
  • What side of the road the horse rider was riding on at the time of the accident. The Highway Code advises riders to keep to the left of the road.
  • Whether the horse rider had both hands on the reins and both feet in the stirrups when the accident occurred.
  • Whether the horse rider was carrying another person or anything which affected the rider’s balance or got tangled up in the reins.
  • Where the horse rider was riding with others, whether the horse riders were riding in single files or abreast. The Highway Code advises that riders never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on busy or narrow roads and when riding round bends.
  • Where the accident occurred. In the case of an accident involving a cyclist, the Court will consider whether the horse was being ridden on a cycle track at the time of the accident. The Highway Code advises riders not to take a horse onto a cycle track, to use a bridleway where possible and to use equestrian crossings where available. The Highway Code advises riders to avoid roundabouts wherever possible. In the case of an accident occurring on a roundabout the Court will consider whether the rider was keeping to the left and watching out for vehicles crossing his path when leaving and joining the roundabout, whether the rider was signalling right when crossing exits and whether the rider signalled left just before leaving the roundabout.
  • Whether the rider failed to dismount where a “horse rider dismount” sign was displayed.

Causation

Once it has been established that the horse rider breached their duty of care it is necessary to establish whether the breach of the duty of care caused the other person’s loss.

A person will be liable for losses and damage that are a direct result of their breach of the duty of care. The question to ask is whether the injury or damage or loss would have occurred but for, or without, the horse rider’s breach of the duty owed to the injured party.

A horse rider will not be liable for any damage which is “too remote”, or was not reasonably foreseeable.

Loss

Even if there is a breach of the duty of care and causation has been established the other party to the accident will not be successful in a claim against the horse rider unless he can show that he has suffered loss. Such loss could be damage to property such as a car, loss of income or payment of a medical bill.