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Public liability and farmers’ duty to control livestock

For ramblers, dog walkers and people enjoying a stroll in the countryside, when public footpaths lead through farmers’ fields there is a real risk of injury where cattle are close by.

14 December 2016

Newsroom - cows on public footpath in field - public liability - farmer duty of care

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that 74 people have been killed by cows in the last 15 years, according to statistics produced in November 2015.

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

But when incidents occur on a public footpath that crosses a farmer’s land, it is in fact the farmer’s responsibility. Any injuries caused by cattle mean that the farmer is liable.

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.

The HSE has prosecuted a farmer whose cows trampled a man to death.

Professor Mike Porter, 66, was killed while walking along a public footpath with his brother and their dogs after cows charged to protect their calves.

Swindon Crown Court ordered cattle owner, Brian Godwin, 83, to pay £30,000 after failing to put into place appropriate measures, despite previous incidents. The court heard how the herd had attacked ramblers on four previous occasions. Official warnings to install an electric fence had been ignored. Mr Godwin pleaded guilty to a breach of his duty of controlling his livestock. Further to the court costs, he was given a suspended jail sentence due to his age.

Professor Porter’s partner, Adrienne Sillar, told the Daily Telegraph that his death was “avoidable” and called for lessons to be learned to “prevent others in the future being needlessly killed or injured”.

Slater and Gordon have experts in public liability claims and deal with cases on a No Win No Fee basis. For a free consultation call us on 0330 041 5869 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.

All information was correct at the time of publication.

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