AGRICULTURE: Liability for animals – the duties expected of famers

Keeping livestock requires great care and attention and farmers are expected to be aware of the duty to keep their animals under control. Outlined below is a brief overview of what their legal obligations entail.

If livestock stray from a farmer’s land onto a neighbour’s premises, then the farmer will be deemed strictly liable for any damage caused, regardless of whether the farmer can be said to have been negligent in any way.

However, if the animals are brought onto the roadway for the purpose of transporting them and an accident occurs, the liability of the farmer will be determined by the general principles of negligence, i.e. whether they had taken reasonable care.

Such factors that will be considered by a court may be whether the farmer had obtained assistance from others in transportation or used a dog for the purposes of shepherding the animals.

A farmer may also find themselves liable for animals straying onto the highway. Such circumstances place the burden of proof on the farmer to show that they had taken all reasonable care to ensure that the animal would not escape.

If they can show that all reasonable care was undertaken then they will be deemed not to have been negligent and escape liability.

By taking adequate precautions in ensuring that fencing is maintained and gates are adequately locked, a farmer will in law have been deemed to have done their duty and will be afforded a defence if the unexpected occurs.

It is important to note that the law regarding liability for animals is complicated, and in the case of dogs, specific legislation has been enacted imposing a duty on their owners to keep them under control.