The rules which relate to liability for damage or injury caused by animals fall into two categories:
- Special rules, providing for strict liability
- General rules in accordance with the principles of tort.
Liability Under the General Rules of Tort
Under the general rules of tort liability can arise under a number of headings:
- Negligence-the usual rules of negligence will apply
- Trespass, and there is a distinction between general rules in relation to trespass and special rules of cattle trespass. Liability under cattle trespass is strict liability whereas other types of trespass may require negligence or intention on behalf of the cattle owner.
- Occupier’s Liability-liability may also arise under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, 1995.
One of the special rules concerning animals draws a distinction between wild animals and domestic animals.
The owner of a wild animal is strictly liable for any damage caused by that animal. This is the scienter principle.
The owner of a tame, domestic animal on the other hand will only be held liable if he is aware of a “mischievous propensity” in the animal to do damage that ultimately is complained of. It does not matter how the owner knows of this malicious tendency.
This mischievous propensity must be “a vicious, mischievous or fierce tendency”.
A defence in a scienter action will be the contributory negligence of the plaintiff, although this will only reduce the liability of the defendant.
The Control of Dogs Act 1992 sets out the statutory position in Ireland with respect to liability of owners of doges for damage done. The Control of Dogs Act, 1986 is also relevant and section 21 of that act imposes strict liability for injuries caused by dogs to animals or persons. For strict liability to arise, however, in relation to a person there must have been an attack whereas there is strict liability in respect of damage done to livestock, with no need to show an attack took place.
A person will still have a cause of action under the scienter rule if he can show the dog had a mischievous propensity and the keeper of the dog knew this.
When a trespasser is injured by a dog the ordinary rules of negligence apply-this is not an incidence of strict liability (ref section 21(3), Control of Dogs Act, 1986).
The 1986 Act also provides remedies in the District Court for nuisance caused by barking dogs.
Cattle which stray from their owner’s land onto another person’s property will give rise to their owner being held liable. This liability only arises when the cattle stray of their own accord.
“Cattle” includes horses, sheep, goats, pigs, assess, domestic fowl and deer.
Who is liable, however, the owner of the cattle or the owner of the land? It appears from decided cases that the person who has possession and control of the animals is liable, not the owner of the land or cattle.
The extent of the liability will be for damage done to land, crops, and animals.
- An act of God
- The plaintiff’s own fault
- Contributory negligence
- The wrongful act of a third party.
Animals on the Road
The normal rules of negligence, discussed already, will apply. Section 2 of the Animals Act, 1985 abolished any immunity for liability in negligence. Strict liability does not apply, however, and to avoid liability a landowner needs to show that he took reasonable care in respect of fencing.
Horses in Urban Areas
The Control of Horses Act 1996 was introduced to deal with the problem of keeping horses in urban areas.