Kilmarnock sheriff finds horse transporter liable for severe injury of £12,000 horse during ferry journey

Kilmarnock sheriff finds horse transporter liable for severe injury of £12,000 horse during ferry journey

A Kilmarnock sheriff has found that a horse transportation company was liable for injuries sustained to a showjumping horse that reduced its commercial value to zero after it escaped from its transport lorry on a ferry from Northern Ireland to Scotland.

Pursuer Derek Rankine had agreed that BG Craig, a partnership trading as Willie Craig Transporters in which the second and third defenders were partners, would transport the horse to Ireland and back for a shoeing review. Liability was argued based on 2005 EU Regulations on the transport of animals that were in force at the material time in addition to the common law.

The case was heard by Sheriff George Jamieson in Kilmarnock Sheriff Court. McShane, advocate, appeared for the pursuer and Davidson, advocate, for the defender.

Fit for transport

In January 2015, the pursuer acquired a showjumping horse named Farco from a horse trader who had acquired him from Belgium in a barter transaction valued at £50,000. The pursuer’s daughter competed in local equestrian events in Ayrshire riding Farco. At or about the start of June 2016, the pursuer and William Craig, the second defender, agreed that the first defender would transport Farco to Ireland for a shoeing review and then return him two weeks later.

On the return journey, while Farco was aboard a ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan, he escaped from his stall on the transport lorry and was seriously injured. As a result of these injuries the pursuer incurred £1391.83 of vet bills and Farco could no longer compete in equestrian events.

Farco’s value immediately before the accident was assessed by the sheriff as £12,000, on the basis of expert evidence and a drop in Farco’s performance at events compared to his previous events in Belgium. The pursuer contended that Farco’s value after the accident was zero, as he was a gelding and could not be used to breed.

It was submitted for the pursuer that the defenders were in breach of their duties to take reasonable care of Farco during the ferry journey, both under common law and EU statutory regulations on the protection of animals during transport. In particular, Farco’s ties did not satisfy the requirement under Article 6(3) of EU Regulation 1/2005 to be strong enough not to break during normal transport conditions.

For the defenders it was submitted that they had satisfied the burden of proof to establish that no breach of regulations had occurred. The transport lorry met industry standards and all reasonable precautions had been taken to avoid injury and suffering to the horse. Additionally, Farco had an inherent vice in that he had a phobia of being placed in the rear of a horse transporter that the defenders were not informed of by the pursuer.

Not led evidence

In his decision, Sheriff Jamieson said of the conditions of transport as set out in evidence: “The defenders have proved, on the balance of probabilities, that Farco was transported in a lorry that met industry standards. They have also proved that the second defender took all reasonable precautions to avoid injury and suffering to Farco both on loading and unloading him from the lorry.”

He continued: “It is true that Farco must have slipped or fell when he broke loose from his stall, but the slip was not the immediate cause of his injuries. Those were associated with him breaking free from his stall.”

Turning to the evidence on Farco’s ties, Sheriff Jamieson said: “The simple fact is that the ties broke during normal transport conditions and the defenders have not led evidence to prove that they did not do so on account of age, wear, or any other defect. In these circumstances, I accept Mr McShane’s submission that the defenders have failed to discharge the onus on them to prove there was no breach by them of Article 6(3) of Regulation 1/2005.”

Assessing the evidence on inherent vice, the sheriff added: “I am faced with the situation where I do not find either witness credible or reliable on this point. The onus of proof is on the defender in this matter and, as it has not been discharged, I cannot find it established that Farco had an inherent vice.”

On quantification of damages, the sheriff concluded: “Both experts and counsel agreed that Farco had no commercial value after the accident. He could not be used for show jumping purposes, and he had no residual value as he could not breed or enter the human food chain. The difference between the pre-accident and post-accident values of Farco was therefore £12,000.”

The sheriff therefore found the defenders liable to the pursuer for the sum of £13,1391.83, being the cost of vet bills plus the loss in value, with interest thereon as to be determined by the court and a hearing fixed to determine the issue of joint and several liability.

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