Court left to decide on whether animal dangerous after it caused brain injury
We were instructed by the wife and daughter of a man who sustained a traumatic brain injury in an accident in May 2007 when a Simmental heifer escaped from a slaughterhouse, ran approximately 100 yards onto a busy town centre High Street and into the pend of a butcher’s shop. The man and the butcher tried to contain the animal by closing the door of the pend, but the heifer charged, striking him on the chest and pushed him back. He fell back and struck his head on the ground.
The case was very complex. It involved consideration of the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987, as well as a common law case against the slaughterhouse which allowed the animal to escape. Both parties obtained opinions from veterinary experts on whether the heifer was a “member of a species whose members generally, are by virtue of their physical attributes or habits, likely to injure severely or kill persons or animals”. We had to consider whether the term “species” should be interpreted as “breed” in light of the interpretation given by the Inner House of the Court of Session in a previous case brought under the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987. Both veterinary experts gave similar opinions regarding the physical attributes and habits of Simmental heifers. The difficulty we faced was that there is no case law or direction on whether the court can only consider the physical attributes or habits of the animal when in their natural environment; or if the court should also consider the attributes and habits of the animal when it is placed in a terrifying, unfamiliar environment.
Despite the significant risk that the court would find that there was no liability in terms of the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 or, if the court did find the defenders liable, the man would be found to have significantly contributed to the accident, we were able to secure a substantial settlement for the man which compensates him for his loss of earnings and will also pay for the cost of a privately funded package of care.