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Harris v Miller - Victoria Brown, Pupil, Outer Temple Chambers

13/02/17. Harris v Miller is one of the rare examples of successfully establishing negligence following a horsing accident. Such cases are notoriously difficult to win; the risk of injury being viewed by many as inherent in riding.

FACTS

When she was 14 years old, the Claimant fell off the Defendant’s horse and sustained paraplegia. The Claimant was the girlfriend of the Defendant’s son. All parties were relatively inexperienced riders although the Claimant had the most experience, being found to be ‘a competent novice’.

On almost all factual points the parties were “diametrically opposed”. The Claimant argued that the horse bucked while cantering on flat ground; the Defendant contended that the horse merely dipped its head while walking downhill.

There was “very little common ground on the crucial aspects relevant to liability” and the dispute covered: the circumstances of the purchase of the horse; the circumstances of the fall and its aftermath; the characteristics of the horse including her behavior on the day of the incident; and, the Claimant’s experience of riding, both actual and as described to the Defendant.

ISSUES

An action was originally brought in negligence and under the Animals Act 1971. In a nod to the longstanding criticism leveled at the Animals Act, HHJ Graham Wood QC noted that it was “to the relief of all concerned, including the court” that only negligence was pursued at trial. The Claimant did not pursue the statutory claim because, on the particular facts, a finding of negligence would have been necessary to succeed.

The principal legal issue was the...

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