Tort Liability in the Keeper of the Beast

Wednesday, February 18. 2009

In December 2005 the Supreme Court of Victoria Court of appeal decided McLean Pty Ltd v Meech, concerning the liability of the defendant company for damage caused by a tenant’s horse which was resident on the company’s premises ([2005] VSCA 305). The company was occupier of St.Annes’s Winery abutting the Western Highway in Victoria , and a horse, known as Bob, belonging to a third party, was agisted in paddocks there. When Bob somehow escaped on to the highway he was involved in a collision with two vehicles, one driven by the plaintiff, who as a result sustained significant injuries. Finding the defendants liable in tort for failing adequately to confine Bob, the court considered, inter alia, the common law rules on cattle-trespass, the venerable rule in Rylands v Fletcher and the modern interpretation of responsibility in the decision of the High Court of Australia in Burnie Port Authority v General Jones Pty Ltd. This piece offers a concise survey of tortious liability for damage inflicted by the conduct of animals a little more generally.

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