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Dogs on Shared-Use Paths. You Asked, We Answered

Q. What is the law regarding dogs on shared-use cycle/footpaths in the UK? 

A. Britons love dogs. They are easily our most popular pets, with 24 per cent of households owning one. The UK dog population is approximately 9 million.  

Uncontrolled dogs, however, can be a menace to cyclists and in my view, where there are cyclists sharing cycle/footpaths in the vicinity of dog walkers it is highly advisable for dogs to be kept on short leads.  

Recently a cyclist, Mr Anthony Steele, was awarded £65,000 in compensation after suffering injuries when he became entangled in a long extendable lead.  

Mr Steele, an experienced cyclist, was injured whilst training for a Coast-to-Coast cycling event with friends in August 2012. When he noticed a group of people standing in the middle of the path ahead of him he rang his bell to warn them of his approach. But as he cycled to the left of the group one of the pedestrian’s dogs darted out in front of him causing his bike to get caught in the retractable lead. 

Although our four-legged friends can of course be taken on a public right of way, interestingly, there is no legal requirement for them to be kept on a lead. A local authority can however, make an order under Section 27 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 that dogs are kept on leads on certain paths.  

Livestock are afforded legal protection under Section 1 of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 which states that, “If a dog worries livestock on any agricultural land, the owner of the dog (or the person in charge) shall be guilty of an offence.”  

“Worrying” is defined as “attacking or chasing livestock as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock or in the case of females, abortion, or loss, or diminution of their produce or being at large (that is to say not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.” A farmer is even permitted to shoot a dog if it is worrying livestock.  

Humans are afforded legal protection under the Animals Act 1971. Section 2 (2) of the Act provides, “Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this act, if: 

(a)   The damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and 

(b)   The likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances; and 

(c)    Those characteristics were known to the keeper or were at any time known to a person who at that time had charge of the animal as that keeper’s servant or, where the keeper is the head of the household, were known to another keeper of the animal who is a member of that household and under the age of 16.” 

This is a difficult piece of legislation and in many ways poorly drafted. To establish liability, each of the three criteria set out above must be considered in turn. Liability will only be imposed on the keeper of the animal if each of the above requirements is satisfied.  

In 2009, the Court of Appeal considered a claim by Mr Jones who was injured whilst running in a park when a Mr Whippey’s Great Dane, Hector, jumped up at him, causing him to fall down a steep bank and badly break his ankle. 

Mr Whippey, who happened to be an RSPCA Inspector, gave evidence that whilst he appreciated his dog could make people nervous he said that he checked to see that no one was about before letting Hector off his lead (he had not spotted Mr Jones when he did so).  

Hector did have a history of coming close to people and barking at them but he did not normally jump up at them. The Judge at first instance dismissed the claim under the Animals Act because the dog’s behaviour had been unusual but found Mr Whippey liable in negligence at common law.  

The Appeal Court Judges allowed Mr Whippey’s appeal, finding that he had not been negligent. They held that Mr Whippey had no reason to anticipate that Hector would jump up and injure another park user. It was not enough for a finding of negligence that the injury to Mr Jones was a possibility, it needed to be likely. This case turns on its own facts. If Mr Whippey had let his dog off a lead near a cycle path I believe that this case would have been decided differently. 

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (Section 3) it is a criminal offence (for the owner and/or the person in charge of the dog) to allow a dog to be “dangerously out of control” in a public place, a place where it is not permitted to be, and in some others. A “dangerously out of control” dog can be defined as a dog that has injured someone or a dog that a person has grounds or reasonable apprehension that it may do so.  

Richard Gaffney is Slater and Gordon’s principal lawyer for Cycling UK (previously CTC), the national cycling charity.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have secured more than £40 million in compensation for CTC members who have been injured in cycling accidents since 2002. Call us for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.

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