What's the legal position if a dog causes a cyclist to crash?

What's the legal position if a dog causes a cyclist to crash?

What would the legal position be if a cyclist crashed as a result of a dog running off its lead into the path of the cyclist? What redress would there be?

George Waimann

This area of law is notoriously difficult. The Highway Code says (Rule 56): ‘Do not let a dog out on the road on its own. Keep it on a short lead when walking on the pavement, road or path shared with cyclists or horse riders.’

Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements. Others, like the example above, do not carry the same legal weight but can be relied upon in civil proceedings. At Slater & Gordon, we regularly pursue claims for Cycling UK members who have suffered injuries as a result of being knocked off their bikes by a dog.

There is some case law on this. In Tierney v Barbour [2001] W.L. 825048, the question of liability arose after the claimant, a motorcyclist, collided with the defendant’s dog (‘Jess’) on a B-road. As a result of a previous escape by Jess, the defendant had added wire netting enclosing the dog’s run. On the day of the accident, Jess managed to escape again and as she was crossing the highway collided with the claimant’s motorcycle. The court held that it was reasonably foreseeable that damage or injury was likely to result if the dog escaped, and where a dog was on the loose, it could be expected to act unpredictably. Therefore, the dog owner was negligent. 

More recently, the Court of Appeal in Whippey v Jones [2009] EWCA Civ 452 arrived at a different conclusion on a different set of facts. The respondent was running along a footpath in a park when the appellant’s dog, a Great Dane, appeared from behind a bush and knocked the runner’s shoulder causing him to fall and break his ankle. It was held on appeal that a reasonable man in the dog owner’s position would not have anticipated that physical injury would have been caused to another park user by the Great Dane making physical contact.

 Each case turns on its own facts. Although owners are responsible for keeping their dogs under control, this does not mean that they are obliged to keep them on short leads in public. Neither does it mean that they would be categorically liable for accidents if their pet acted out of character. The owner is likely to be found liable only if it can be shown that the dog should have been restrained and/or had a propensity to chase after individuals, cyclists or motor vehicles, and that the dog owner knew that their pet was likely to behave in that manner.

One of the difficulties with animal cases is lack of insurance. Not all pet owners have third party liability insurance.

Paul Kitson

 

This was first published in the August / September 2014 edition of Cycle magazine.

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