What would be the legal position if a cyclist crashed and suffered injuries due to an uncontrolled animal running into the path of their bike?
This area of law is notoriously difficult. The Highway Code (Rule 56) states: "Do not let a dog out on the road on its own. Keep it on a short lead when walking on the pavement, road or path shared with cyclists or horse riders."
Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements. Others, like the example above, do not carry the same legal weight but can be relied upon in civil proceedings.
There is some case law on this. In a 2001 case, the question of liability arose after the claimant, a motorcyclist, collided with the defendant’s dog on a B-road. As a result of a previous escape by the dog, the defendant had added wire netting enclosing the dog’s run.
On the day of the accident, the dog managed to escape again and as she was crossing the highway collided with the claimant’s motorcycle. The court held that it was reasonably foreseeable that damage or injury was likely to result if the dog escaped, and where a dog was on the loose, it could be expected to act unpredictably. Therefore, the dog owner was negligent.
More recently, the Court of Appeal in a 2009 case arrived at a different conclusion on a different set of facts. A man was running along a footpath in a park when the appellant’s dog, a Great Dane, appeared from behind a bush and knocked the runner’s shoulder causing him to fall and break his ankle.
It was held on appeal that a reasonable man in the dog owner’s position would not have anticipated that physical injury would have been caused to another park user by the Great Dane making physical contact.
Although owners are responsible for keeping their dogs under control, this does not mean they are obliged to keep them on a short lead in public. Neither does it mean they would be categorically liable for accidents if their dog acted out of character.
If an uncontrolled dog causes a cycling accident, then provided the owner can be identified, the cyclist can pursue a civil personal injury claim against the dog owner responsible. The claim can cover your pain, suffering, and any medical treatment you had to undergo as well as damage to your bike, clothing or equipment and any loss of earnings you incurred due to not being able to work because of your injuries.
The owner is likely to be found liable only if it can be shown that their dog should have been restrained and/or had a propensity to chase after individuals, cyclists or motor vehicles, and the owner knew their dog was likely to behave in that manner and failed to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent an accident from occurring.
One of the difficulties with animal cases is the lack of insurance as not all pet owners have third party liability insurance. If this is the case, Slater and Gordon Lawyers can verify whether your existing cycle, car or household insurance policy has public liability cover including a ‘reverse indemnity clause’ – a type of cover that will pay out compensation awarded by a court if the party at fault fails to pay up and has no insurance cover, money or assets, even if you are considered to be contributory negligent.
Paul Kitson is Slater and Gordon’s Principal Lawyer for the CTC, the UK’s national cycling charity.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers regularly pursue claims for CTC members who have suffered injuries as a result of being knocked off their bikes by a dog.
We have many years’ experience dealing with cycling accident claims caused by potholes, motorists, buses, animals, faulty equipment and road defects.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have secured more than £40 million in compensation for CTC Members who have been injured in cycling accidents since 2002.
For a free consultation or to claim compensation for cycling accident injuries, call our specialist Cycling Accident Solicitors 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.