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Civil liability for animals

Southampton Solent University Law Research Centre
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  • Law
  • Law
  • Mathematics


Civil Liability for Animals Juliet Chevalier-Watts Introduction Animals are in their own category for the purposes of civil liability. At common law this was referred to as "scienter", which was based on the keeper's knowledge of the animal's dangerous propensities, with liability arising if the animal belonged to a dangerous species, or the keeper knew of its dangerousness. The Animals Act 1971 abolished scienter, replacing it with a statutory code of liability, although many of the common law principles of scienter remain in the legislation. This paper considers whether the Act is "posing as many problems in animal cases as under the common law principles which preceded it",] by critically assessing the evolution of the common law through to its legislative replacement, as detailed below.2 Part 1 explores the common law, focusing on issues associated with differentiating between wild animals (ferae naturae) and tame animals (mansuetae naturae), establishing the keeper's requisite knowledge of danger, and the appropriateness of the common law in modem times. Part 2 examines the legislative replacement for scienter. First, it considers the statutory definition of wild and tame animals and, in particular, the implications of that definition for genetic modification and cloning, domestication and hybrids. It then addresses the most complex part of the Act, s 2(2), which is concerned with liability for non-dangerous animals. That sub- section is broken down into its component sections, and each one analysed with reference to decided cases and academic opinion. As will be shown, s 2(2)(a) focuses on whether courts have adopted a too simplistic approach in their interpretation, and the issue of likelihood of damage. S 2(2)(b) is the most complex section of the sub-sections and addresses, inter alia, causation and foreseeability, 1 P Cook, "Before the Animals Act: the Historical Fiction of Base Property in Dogs and the Paradox of Scienter Liability", (1995) 16(2) Holdsworth Law Review 143.

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