20 July 2023

Bristol Crown Court recently fined a landowner £15,000 (with an additional £8,000 payable for costs) for two breaches of s3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for a failure to ensure that the risks to members of the public caused by their cattle were controlled.

The prosecution arose out of two separate incidents in 2021 where the landowner’s cattle injured members of the public, who were using public footpaths on the land. The first incident saw a dog walker attacked by several cattle - resulting in a fractured shoulder and broken ribs. The second incident occurred just a few weeks later when a local member of the public sustained significant injuries including concussion, dislocated shoulders, broken ribs and vertebrae - again caused by the cattle - whilst out on a morning run.

This prosecution follows a fine of £3,000 handed down to a farmer for one count of the same breach by Exeter Magistrates Court in March 2023. In this case, a member of the public was walking his dog on holiday (also on a public footpath) when he was thrown 8ft in the air and trampled repeatedly by a cow. The injuries sustained resulted in a 7-day stay in intensive care.

The Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) noted the importance of avoiding grazing cattle with their young in fields where public footpaths or rights of way are situated. HSE have highlighted that large animals can pose a real risk to people and that even a “gentle knock” from a cow can result in injury. As in any sector, incidents leading to injuries can result in prosecution by HSE. Accordingly, landowners should follow the relevant HSE guidance – including segregating livestock from footpaths and installing appropriate fencing as control measures.

Alternative legal risks:

Landowners and farmers should also be aware of the risk of other actions arising due to issues caused by livestock. For example:

  • Section 4 of the Animals Act 1971 sets out that where livestock stray onto the land of another and cause damage (be that physical or the expenses incurred whilst the livestock are recovered), the landowner (or individual in possession of the livestock, should they not be the landowner) will be liable to make good this damage. Such cases are strict liability offences meaning that the intention of a landowner or owner to avoid such an incident, should one arise, will be largely irrelevant.
  • Claims brought in negligence where an injured party can establish that a person in charge of the livestock failed to take reasonable care.
  • Under the Occupiers Liability Acts, a landowner (or occupier) may be liable in the event of an individual sustaining injury from an animal whilst a visitor on their premises.

Potential outcomes:

Failure to deal with the risks posed by cattle and other livestock can result in liability under both health and safety and agricultural legislation, in addition to claims in negligence. Landowners and farmers should be aware that the potential sentence for health and safety breaches can range up to an unlimited fine or up to two years imprisonment, depending on the severity of the incident. The fines in both of these cases were of self-employed individuals – a fine for a Company could be much more significant as turnover is taken into account.

Potential outcomes arising from agricultural litigation or negligence will be dictated by (amongst other considerations and potential defences) the extent of the damage or injury caused, and the extent of the landowner’s failure to take reasonable care.

Our Dispute Resolution team has specialists in both Health and Safety and Agricultural law and are on hand to advise any landowners on how to ensure that they are meeting their regulatory obligations, or to assist in the unfortunate event of an incident. Please contact Kevin Kennedy for Agricultural matters, Charlotte Whitaker or Ann Metherall for Health and Safety, or your usual Burges Salmon contact should you require any assistance in this area.

This article was written by Eleanor Parsons.

Key contact

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy Partner

  • Agricultural Disputes
  • Trust and Probate Disputes
  • Estates and Land

Subscribe to news and insight

Burges Salmon careers

We work hard to make sure Burges Salmon is a great place to work.
Find out more