Liability for Animals

Liability for Animals. These animals are often times the property of other members of the society. Since the animals are their property, the law of torts holds them strictly liable for injuries caused by their animals. Liability for animals under the law of torts is classified into two which we be discusing later.

In a situation where animal attacks and injure someone, the law of torts holds them (the owners) strictly liable for injuries caused by their animals. The liability for animals under the law of torts is classified in two:

  1. Scienter Action (Liability for Dangerous Animals)
  2. Cattle Trespass

Scienter Action (Liability for Dangerous Animals)
This part of the law of torts concerns liability for animals that are dangerous.

Liability in this situation is usually predicated in whether or not the owner of the animal had prior knowledge of the animals conduct. Scienter action classified dangerous animals under two categories:

  1. Animal Ferae naturae
  2. Animal Mansuetae Naturae

See also:- Public and Private Nuisance; Remedies to Nuisance; Malicious Prosecution; False Imprisonment; Defenses to Trespass; Strict Liability.

Animal Farea Naturae

These are animals which are dangerous by nature; they include lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants and other wild animals that can cause harm to others.

They are generally dangerous but some of them can be tamed. If however, one of these tamed wild animals cause injury to another person, the owner would be strictly liable. This is regardless of the fact that the animals had not attacked anyone in the past.

The reason for this is that thses animals are by instinct, dangerous to human beings. Hence, anyone who brings them to human dwelling does so at his own risk.

See the celebrated case of Behrens Vs. Bertram Mills Circus, the owner of a tamed elephant was held liable for the acts of the elephant in attacking the plaintiff. This was regardless of the fact that the elephant had never attacked anyone in the past.

Animal Mansuetae Naturae – Liability for Animals

These are animals that are normally tame but occasionally attack human beings and cause harm. A very good example of this is dogs. Dogs are tame, but once in while they attack and cause injury to human being.

In this situation, liability only arises if the owner of the animals had previous knowledge of the dangerous behavior of the animals.

Thus, what the plaintiff has to prove to establish liability is the fact that the animal had vicious tendency and the owner was aware of this tendency.

In the case of Daryani V. Njoku, the plaintiff had been attacked and injured by the defendant’s dog. This had occurred on a previous occasion and the matter was reported to the defendant’s wife. It was held that since the wife knew of the vicious tendency, she was meant to have told the defendant about it. Thus, the defendant was held liable for the animal’s act.

In the case of Glansville V. Sutton, the defendant’s dog attacked and injured the plaintiff. There was no evidence of previous attack by the animal, hence the defendant was held not to be liable.

It should be noted that liability would not arise in a situation in which the animal was acting according to its natural instinct. In the case of Burckle V. Holes, the defendant’s cat entered the plaintiffs land and killed fourteen of his birds. It was held that there was no liability on the defendant’s part due to the fact that the animal was acting according to its natural instinct.

Defenses to Scienter Action – Liability for Animals

The common defences to Scienter action are the plaintiff’s default and violenti non fit injuria.

In the case of Sarch V. Blackburn, it was held that a person who trespasses into another man’s land and is attacked by the guard dog would have no claim due to the defense of plaintiff’s default. Also, in the case of Sycamore V. Ley, it was held that the act of the plaintiff in teasing the dog serves as a defense since it was through the plaintiff’s default that he was injured by the animal.

The defence of violenti non fit injuria would apply in a situation in which a person, by the nature of his work or some other purpose, has voluntarily acknowledged to exposing himself to the risk of being attacked by animals. In the case of Rands V. McNeill, it was held that zoo keepers and animal trainers had no remedy in scienter action if they were attacked by the animals with which they were dealing.

Cattle Trespass

This category of animal trespass deals with situations in which cattle in the possession or control of the defendant move unto the land of the plaintiff and cause damage therein. In the case of Cox V. Burbridge, it was held that liability would generally arise against the defendant even though he was not negligent in dealing with the animals.

Cattle under animal mansutae naturae include cows, bulls, horse, mules, goats and pigs. In some instances, it has been extended to include fowls.

It should be noted that in the case of Tillet V. Ward, it was held that there would be no liability under cattle trepass if animals being led on the highway stray unto adjacent land. This is due to the fact that the straying of animals from the highway is considered as a normal hazard associated with leading cattle on the highway.

Also, in the case of Manton V. Brocklebank, it was held that it is only the person that has interest in the land that can sue under the cattle trespass.

Defenses to Cattle Trespass

The defenses to cattle trespass are the same as the defenses for the rule in Rylands V. Fletcher.

In the case of Singleton V. Williamson, it was held that the defense of plaintiff’s default would apply in a situation in which the plaintiff neglected to build a fence round his property, thus allowing for cattle to stray there and cause damage.

In the case of Smith V. Stone, it was held that the defense of the act of a stranger would apply in a situation in which a third party drove the cattle onto the plaintiff’s land.

The defense of act of God would also apply if lighting strikes terror into the cattle that they end up stampeding into the land belonging to the plaintiff.

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