A rider has won her appeal against a court ruling that exposed all riders to potentially ruinous lawsuits, with no legal defence. Keren Bowlt fell onto a passing car when her cob Chance uncharacteristically stepped off the verge into the road near Morpeth, Newcastle. She was initially held responsible for the actions of her horse (under the 1971 Animals Act) and ordered to pay damages to the driver, Richard James Clarke, who suffered whiplash and damage to his vehicle.
But Miss Bowlt claimed Mr Clarke had been the negligent party. Bowlt maintained Chance was a gentle horse and the circumstances were exceptional.
In November last year Judge Walton, sitting at Newcastle County Court, ruled neither party had in fact been negligent but ordered Miss Bowlt to pay £8,885.48 in damages to Mr Clarke under the 1971 Animals Act. The judge ruled that under the Act, Miss Bowlt was responsible for the actions of Chance as a matter of strict liability, with no legal defence against damage caused by the horse.
Yesterday Miss Bowlt appealed against this ruling, claiming it left riders across Britain defenceless against damaging lawsuits. Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, sitting at London’s Appeal Court, allowed the appeal after hearing from the defence that Chance was a placid animal. He maintained Miss Bowlt could not be liable for Chance’s actions given the horse’s good nature, and the circumstances of the incident gave no indication a loss of control would occur.
Mr Clarke’s lawyer argued the County Court judge’s ruling should be allowed to stand since the horse’s size and the circumstances constituted an offence of strict liability under the Animals Act.
Miss Bowlt’s appeal was nevertheless granted, much to the relief of the BHS. “It would have been a catastrophe if riders were left culpable,” said Graham Corry, Chairman of the British Horse Industry Confederation, who added that the BHS is still mooting for the Animals Act to be revised: “This case doesn’t change the Animals Act. Strict liability means that even if you’ve taken every possible action to ride responsibly, you are still culpable which is clearly nonsense.”
The BHS’s Safety Senior Executive Sheila Hardy said: “This is a landmark victory for all riders, particularly those who have no option but to ride on the road. Careful and responsible riders should not live in fear of being sued after events arising from circumstances beyond their control.”