Unsurprisingly, most animal related injuries are caused by dogs, but other animals can also inflict nasty, and sometimes lifechanging and permanent injuries to the victims. The psychological injuries of an animal attack can also be profound.
Wherever animals are kept for other people’s pleasure, injuries can occur. Even animal keepers are at risk – like female tiger keeper Rosa King who was killed by one of her charges at Hamerton Zoo Park in 2017. Safari parks, animal sanctuaries, small animal farms, and the like, invariably involve some risk to visitors and workers.
Injuries are also caused by horses, cattle, cats, foxes, rats, other mammals and livestock. Unfortunately, it is underestimated just how dangerous some animals can be. Every year, for instance, there are high profile reports of people fatally injured by cows – usually walkers who have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The reality is: an animal that is frightened or provoked can attack.
Many people work with animals on a daily basis on farms, in zoos and other animal establishments. If you work with or around animals, your employer must provide you with a safe working environment. If you are attacked and injured, you can sue your employer for personal injury compensation.
Typical animal injuries include open wounds following a bite, and infections are a common problem following an animal injury. Other injuries can include gore wounds from bulls or goats; serious internal injuries and broken bones from being trampled or kicked; and even brain injuries and lost limbs in some cases.
Animal keepers are legally responsible for the animals to which you and other members of the public have access. This means they must always be under control, and public access to them must be supervised. So farmers must ensure their paths are safe to walk on, and display clear warning signs if there is a bull in their field. Zoos must ensure the public are adequately protected by barriers, toughened glass, cages, and so on. If the animal owner is negligent in their duty, and you are injured as a result, you can claim personal injury compensation. To prove negligence, you need to prove that the owner owed you a duty of care, and your injury was a direct result of that breach. For instance, the animal had escaped, or your access to the animal was not supervised.
No, you might not have to prove negligence to secure compensation if you’re the victim of an animal attack. If the injury was caused by a dangerous species (ie, one that is not commonly domesticated in the UK and can cause severe damage when fully grown, if not restrained), then ‘strict liability’ applies under the Animals Act 1971. This means you don’t have to prove the owner was negligent to secure damages. However, you must be able to show that the owner was the keeper of the animal, and that the animal caused you personal injury.
If the animal is domesticated, the keeper of the animal will be strictly liable only if your injury was of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause (or if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe); the likelihood of this was because of its characteristics not normally found in the same species – and the keeper knew this.
If you have been the victim of an animal attack, it is vital to get medical attention straight away, particularly because of the high risk of infection. Take photographs if you can: of the location of the incident, your injuries, and the animal if at all possible. You should also find out if the Health and Safety Executive has been informed by the animal owner/keeper. And if you think an offence has been committed, tell the police. You should also get the details of any witnesses who can help support your personal injury claim.
If you have been injured by an animal, you may be able to make a claim against the keeper for personal injury compensation under the Animals Act 1971. If the keeper cannot be held strictly liable, you can pursue a negligence claim instead – in which case, you must prove the owner owed you a duty of care, and your injury was a direct result of that breach. You will need to identify who to make your claim against. This could be an individual, a company or another business, such as a zoo operator, the owner of a horse-riding school, or a farmer. If you were attacked while at work, you can make a compensation claim against your employer.
In practice, the claim will usually be made against an insurance company, as establishments keeping animals will usually be required to maintain public liability insurance.
You must make your claim within three years of the date of the injury (though in the case of a child, the three-year period does not start until they reach the age of 18). Try to start your claim as soon as possible, though, while the evidence, such as witness statements, is still fresh. Although you can start your claim more than three years after the attack took place, the court may not allow it.
Fortunately, most animal attack compensation claims are settled out of court. However, if your claim does go to court, you will need as much evidence as possible to prove your claim, including expert medical evidence, to enable the judge to decide what is fair compensation.
This very much depends on the nature and extent of your injuries, the expected time of recovery, and the impact on your life. Damages will include general damages (for pain, suffering and ‘loss of amenity’); and special damages – to cover your expenses, medical fees, and so on. General damages are assessed by the court (unless you settle your claim out of court) depending on your injuries. But bear in mind that if you were partly responsible for your injury, a deduction will most likely be made.
If the police are involved following an animal attack, you may be able to make a compensation claim from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) if the animal was intentionally used to cause you harm.
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