The legislation which governs claims for animal attacks is the Animals Act 1971. The Animals Act distinguishes between dangerous and non-dangerous animals. The standard of proof required is much lesser when the animal causing the injury is one which is deemed to be ‘dangerous’.
The Act provides that a ‘Dangerous’ animal 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.
In determining liability, the relevant section of the Animals Act is section 2(1), which sets out the following:
(1) Where any 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, except as otherwise provided by this Act.
Lions and Tigers are examples of ‘Dangerous’ animals.
However as you might imagine, the majority of claims arise from injuries caused by ‘non-dangerous’ animals. Animals Act section 2(2) stipulates as follows:
(2)Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this Act, if—
(a)the damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and
(b)the likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances; and
(c)those characteristics were known to that keeper or were at any time known to a person who at that time had charge of the animal as that keeper’s servant or, where that keeper is the head of a household, were known to another keeper of the animal who is a member of that household and under the age of sixteen.
Dogs and cats are examples of ‘non dangerous’ animals.
At common law the general provisions that outlines whether an attack was foreseeable (i.e. could reasonably have been contemplated) are whether the owner of the animal had knowledge of the animal’s propensity to attack someone (for example, a pet dog with a natural inclination to attack the Postman) and, having possessed that knowledge, they then failed to take reasonable measures to prevent this.