Equine 

Q&A

Esther Stirling is a solicitor in the dispute resolution department.  A horse-owner and an IH follower, she deals with disputes involving horses, amongst others.

Q: My horse spooked and kicked a parked car while we were hacking, causing damage.  The car was parked in our gateway, which is private, without permission and partially blocked the gate, which we have to ride through.  The owner of the car wants me to pay for repairs.  Am I liable?  How will my insurers deal with the claim?

All horse owners should carry some form of public liability insurance, which should be considered an essential.  If your horse is insured, that policy will almost certainly provide such cover, the kind you would look to if someone were to make a claim against you alleging you had caused them damage/injury.  An element of public liability cover may be provided with membership of a group, such as the Countryside Alliance, or via BHS Gold Membership, though the policy on which a claim like this would usually be made would be your own horse insurance. 

There are usually three questions to be asked if you are involved in an accident which may give rise to an insurance claim:

  • Does my policy cover me?
  • Am I liable for the damage/injury caused? 
  • How will the claim be handled?
Your Policy

What your policy covers will be summarised in your policy schedule and terms and conditions. 

They will determine whether you are covered for any compensation you must pay to the injured party, injury to you and/or your horse and costs.  If you are in any doubt, seek clarification from your insurers, consult your insurance broker (if you have one) or consider asking a solicitor to review the policy.  More than one policy may need to be reviewed – for example a personal accident policy and your horse insurance.

Your policy may not cover loss arising from certain activities.  It is very important that you take out a policy that covers what you do.  For example, does it provide cover for a friend riding your horse?  Or letting someone else ride your horse as part of a business?  There will almost certainly be an excess for you to pay if a claim is paid. 

Liability

Insurers will only pay a claim if they consider you are liable.  Liability for damage like this is seldom completely clear-cut.  You should keep a detailed note, as soon as you can after the accident, of what happened.  If there are any witnesses, ask them to make a statement.  Photographs can be helpful.  The sooner after the incident a record is made, the more weight it will carry. 

Liability can arise in different ways, and we have looked in a previous article at strict liability under the Animals Act 1971, in which cases it is not necessary for a claimant to show that you acted unreasonably, or carelessly, for you to be liable.   This article focuses on liability in negligence.  To show that you have acted negligently, a claimant must establish that:

  • You owed them a duty of care;
  • You breached that duty of care; and
  • That has directly led them to suffer loss.

We all owe duties of care to others when we are using the roads, and generally to those around us when dealing with our horses.  You owe a duty of care to people on your land (even trespassers) and to neighbours.  The duty is, in simple terms, to take reasonable care in the circumstances to avoid harm being caused, either by your acts or omissions.  What amounts to reasonable care will vary with the circumstances.

Whether you have breached your duty of care depends on all the facts of the case.  Here, we need to examine whether it was reasonably foreseeable that damage to the car might be caused.  How small was the gap?  Is your horse generally quiet, or was it foreseeable that it might spook?  Should you have dismounted and led the horse?  Was there an alternative route?  Could the car owner have been asked to move it?  Or was it reasonable (or necessary) to ride through the gap, which was wide, and out of character for your horse to spook?  All of the circumstances must be examined.

The final questions are whether (i) your actions caused loss; and (ii) if so, what that loss amounts to.  Loss must be reasonably foreseeable.  It must not be ‘too remote’, in other words it must be directly connected to your negligent act.  This is reasonably straightforward here.  If you are found to have breached your duty of care, it will have caused the damage to the car and the owner can claim reasonable repair costs as damages. 

Does it matter that the car was parked where it should not have been?  It does not affect the duty of care you owed them, but the car owner may see their damages reduced for contributory negligence if it were found that by having parked there, they contributed to the damage they suffered.   

Making a claim

Your insurers will require you to report all claims promptly, and will need you initially to complete a claim form.  Your insurers will handle the claim, either themselves or through solicitors.  You can, in some circumstances, instruct a solicitor of your own choice, rather than your insurer’s panel firm, particularly, in a claim like this, if you can show that specialist knowledge about horses is required.  If a horse’s temperament is disputed, a report from a vet or behavioural specialist may be required. 

Insurers require full disclosure from you, both when you take out your policy and when you make a claim.  Any failure to disclose something which might affect cover might lead them to decline cover and even to recover from you monies they have paid out.

Insurers may contest liability, or concede it and pay the car owner’s reasonable claim.  They will have the power under your policy to settle on the terms they think best.  Save for supplying information, and paying your excess, you do not always need to be actively involved: claims-handling is part of the service they provide, and one way at least in which the worry that can be caused by being involved in an accident can be reduced.


Freeths handles commercial and personal matters for individual and business clients, with expertise in the rural and agricultural sector.  For more information contact Esther Stirling.