Cows have strayed onto my property and caused damage. What are my rights?

What liability does the cow owner have?

The Animals Act 1971 makes an owner or person in possession of livestock ‘strictly liable’ for any damage caused by their animals trespassing on land owned/occupied by another.

This means that even if the owner of the livestock took all possible precautions, they are still liable if any part their animal crosses the boundary of someone else’s property.

What damage will a livestock owner be liable for?

A livestock owner will be liable for any damage caused by their animal(s) to the land or any property on the land, eg, the cost of reinstating the garden damaged by the cow.

They will also be liable for any reasonable expenses incurred by the owner/occupier of the land onto which the animal has trespassed. This includes expenses incurred between the time the cow enters the garden and the time it is returned to or collected by the owner, or while a right of detention is being exercised.

They will also be liable for any death or personal injury resulting from the trespass.

Defences

If the livestock owner can show that the owner/occupier of the land onto which the animal strayed gave permission for the animal to cross the boundary, this will amount to a defence.

The livestock owner 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. That does not necessarily mean they will escape liability, but the owner/occupier of the land upon which the animal strayed will have to prove the livestock owner was negligent. However, they may still be ‘strictly liable’ for any damage if they unreasonably delayed in collecting the animal.

They will not be liable for any damage which was wholly due to the fault of the owner/occupier of the land onto which the animal strayed. However, the person who suffered damage will not be regarded as being at fault just because they could have prevented the damage by fencing the land.

The livestock owner will also not be liable for any damage if they can show the animal would not have strayed onto the land in question had it not been for a breach by another land owner/occupier of a duty to fence land.

Remedies

Claims for damage

If a satisfactory settlement of any claim for damage cannot be reached it is open to the person who has suffered the damage to bring a claim in the county court, if the claim is worth less than £25,000, or the High Court if the claim is worth more than that amount.

The right to detain trespassing livestock

Where livestock strays onto land owned/occupied by another, that person has the right to detain the livestock, provided the livestock is not under anyone’s control at the time of the detention.

However, this right should be exercised with caution as a person exercising this right is liable for any damage caused to the detained animal resulting from a failure to treat the animal with reasonable care and to supply it with adequate food and water.

The right of detention ends:

  • after 48 hours, unless within that 48-hour period the detention has been properly reported to the police and the person exercising the right of detention knows who owns, or has the right to possess, the livestock and has given them notice of the detention; or
  • where the livestock owner has offered sufficient money to satisfy any claim for damage caused by the animal and any reasonable expenses incurred in keeping it; or
  • where there is no claim for damage and the animal is claimed by it’s owner, or the person who has the right of possession; or
  • when a court orders the return of the animal.

The right to sell detained livestock

Assuming the livestock have been detained lawfully, the owner/occupier of the land upon which the animal strayed becomes entitled to sell, at either a market or by public auction, the animal 14 days after it strayed onto the land, providing there are no pending proceedings for the return of the animal, or by the person detaining the animal for damage done by the animal or for expenses incurred in keeping it.

If a sale takes place and the amount the animal is sold for exceeds the value of the claim of the person who detained the animal, then the livestock owner can recover the excess from them.

What if my cows continually stray onto another’s land?

Where animals are kept in such a manner in which they cause material annoyance to a person this may amount to a ‘nuisance’. In such circumstances a county court or High Court may grant an injunction against the keeping of animals in such a manner.