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Public Liability and the Dangers of Cows

Cows are currently the most dangerous large animals in the UK, according to new data. When it comes to public liability and the risk owed to the public, farmers have been advised to not put calves and their mothers in fields.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has revealed that 74 people have been killed by cows in the last 15 years. Whereas many people might assume that dogs would be responsible for the most attacks, the NHS have reported 17 fatalities caused by dogs in the past eight years.

The majority of victims of severe injuries caused by cattle are farm workers, accounting for 56 of the 74 reported fatalities. The remaining 18 were members of the public, 17 of whom were walking dogs.

Cows grazing in fields can be the picture of tranquillity. They are generally docile animals, often indifferent to people walking in their fields if used to regular visitors. It is usually bulls that make people wary when it comes to entering a field, but, if threatened, cows can become aggressive.

How Can These Accidents be Avoided?

Whereas avoiding cow fields may sound obvious if there is a risk of danger, a spokesperson from the HSE stated, “Of the 18 members of the public, all were present on public footpaths or commonly used rights of way, all but one were accompanied by a dog and with exception of one man who had wandered away from a family group, all were lone walkers or accompanied by one other person.”

When incidents occur on a public footpath that crosses a farmer’s land, it is in fact the farmer’s responsibility. The law states that Occupiers Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 require land managers to show a reasonable duty of care towards other people. Further to this, the Animals Act 1971 makes the keeper of an animal "strictly liable" in most cases for injuries caused by their stock.


When there are calves in a field, if threatened, cows will become aggressive to protect their young. The HSE have re-issued advice to farmers in light of these facts, advising cattle owners to not keep “cows and their calves in fields with public footpaths.” But whereas farmers owe risk to people crossing their land on public paths – for which public liability insurance is a must – there are also things people can do when walking in a farmer’s field.

Dogs have been linked to all but one of the reported fatalities, and it is believed that cows see dogs as a threat above humans. Because of this, it is wise to avoid fields with cows whilst walking your dog – especially if there are calves present.

If you have been injured in an accident on farmland that wasn’t your fault. Call the expert team of personal injury lawyers at Slater and Gordon on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you back.


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