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

A horse rider can be liable when his horse causes a road traffic accident under the common law of negligence and/ or under the Animals Act 1971.

What amounts to negligence?

To establish negligence the following elements must be present:

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

Duty of care

Horse riders owe a duty of care to other road users. This duty extends to other riders, pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle drivers.

Breach of the duty of care

When deciding whether a person breached the duty of care, the court will consider whether the horse rider knew there was a risk of the accident occurring and whether a reasonable horse rider in the same situation would have realised there was a risk of the accident occurring.

The court will consider 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 of foot passengers. Failure to comply with the law will ordinarily be enough to establish breach of the duty of care.

The court will also take into account the provisions of the Highway Code, including:

  • 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 (eg, fluorescent or reflective clothing for the rider; reflective bands on the horse).
  • 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 took to ensure he could control the horse before taking it out on the road.
  • What action the horse rider took to ensure the horse would not be nervous with traffic.
  • Whether the horse rider looked behind him before riding off or turning and whether he gave a clear arm signal to indicate 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.
  • 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.
  • In 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.
  • In 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 and signaled correctly when 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 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 succeed in a claim against the horse rider unless he can show he has suffered loss. Such loss could be damage to property such as a car, loss of income or payment of a medical bill.

Animals Act 1971

A horse rider can be held liable for an accident under the Animals Act 1971 if:

  • the damage was of a kind which the horse, unless restrained, was likely to cause, or if the horse caused damage, it was likely to be severe;
  • damage would be caused by characteristics either not usually found in horses, or only found in horses at particular times and in particular circumstances; and
  • those characteristics were known to the owner or keeper of the horse.