THE Country Land and
Business Association (CLA) and British Horse Society are uniting to call a halt to rising equestrian insurance premiums.
The two organisations met last Friday to discuss a way forward on their separate campaigns, following moves
by the CLA to push forward amendments to the Animals Act relating to owners' strict liability.
"This was the first real and meaningful discussion I have had with the CLA in my time here," said BHS chief
executive Graham Cory. "We've decided we must cooperate and pool our resources to achieve change."
The Law Lords' interpretation of the Animals Act 1971 in the Mirvahedy case -
which resulted in considerable compensation - set a precedent that, added to the UK's
increasing compensation culture, and has set insurance premiums spiralling.
In March 2003, horse owners Andrew and Susan Henley were held strictly liable for injuries to motorist.
Hossein Mirvahedy in an accident in Devon in 1996,
after their horses escaped from a field.
Last year, the CLA began a concerted push to remove strict liability from owners or keepers of horses involved
in an accident where there has been no negligence.
"We're looking to suggest that people who own horses aren't strictly liable under the Animals Act unless
they've been negligent," said CLA legal head Dr Karen Jones, who last week met with rural affairs minister Jim Knight to discuss
ways in which the Act could be clarified and amended.
Dr Jones continued: "Going through at the moment is the Compensation Bill, which talks about clarifying
when people are liable for accidents. We want it to say that owners of a normal animal behaving normally should not be liable
- accidents can happen, as any horse owner knows.
"The government is very receptive. It recognises there is a problem that needs to be sorted."
Last week, Jim Knight told H&H he welcomed the CLA's campaign, but added:
"I would not wish to absolve all horse, or other owners, from the responsibility of taking suitable precautions to protect
innocent members of the public from the possibility of injury. Subject to that proviso, I am committed to exploring within
government what action might be taken to resolve this situation."
How to tackle insurance hikes is discussed in the new British Horse Industry Confederation Federation strategy.
An industry-led working group, chaired by the BHS - together with DEFRA, the Association of British Riding Schools and the
Association of British Insurers - has also, for the past two years, discussed ways the horse and insurance industries can
work together to reduce risks and rising premiums. The BHS has now invited the CLA to join that group, both parties recognising
they must use the weight of the whole industry to effect change.
Barry Fehler, director of South Essex Insurance Brokers, part of the working
group, welcomed the move.
Battling insurance in Wales
INGRID Evans runs Llandwana Stables, a small trekking and livery
business in Pembrokeshire.
Over the past two years, her insurance premium has risen by 200% - from £2,000 to £6,000 after an incident that was out of her control.
While trekking with a mother and her two daughters, two loose dogs [owned by tourists]
ran at the horses and, in a natural show of fear, the horses spooked.
Three of the four riders, including Evans, fell.
"We were just walking up the bridleway in complete control, it was a real shock," recalled
Two years after the incident, Evans received a claim from the mother, including medical
evidence of injury. Evans's insurance company settled out of court, but then her insurance premiums began to rise.
Evans contacted her solicitors to determine whether she could hold the owners of the dogs
liable and was told her insurance company could settle the matter as it saw fit. And settling out of court, a cheaper option than fighting a
claim, is often taken.
Evans received two further claims from the daughters, one of whom did not fall off her
horse. Evans's insurance company has settled one claim out of court, but is waiting for the results of the second. But as
the second is processed, no other insurers will take her on and her premiums are now prohibitively high.
"I feel this
situation is disgraceful, but what can I do?" asked Evans. "I have to either keep paying an extra £4,000 a year for something that wasn't my fault or the alternative is to close
"There are two ways forward - one is to overrule the precedent set by the Mirvahedy
case, the other is to clarify the Animals Act," he said. "The insurance industry has been looking for a suitable substantial
case with which to overrule the Mirvahedy case."
According to Fehler, insurance rates have stabilised in the past year, and there
is no sign of a rise in the immediate future. "If there's clarification [to the Animals Act] it does make it easier to deal
with difficult cases that would see a possible reduction in premiums," he said.
Simon Mackaness, director of THB Equestrian Group, also welcomed clarification,
saying: "Anything that helps reduce the legal liability of the assured or the horse owner has to be of benefit." But he added:
"As far as lowering premiums, it's hard to comment without knowing exactly what will be changed and the ramifications.
"We have to look at it from the different angles - legislation is interpreted in different ways, for example,
the Animals Act has been interpreted in very different ways from when it was originally drafted."
Cory says the next step forward is "more talks" with the CLA, to ensure the case is "as robust and well
argued, and backed up with as much evidence as possible".
Richard Jarman, CLA head of communications, added: "This is a really positive
step forward. It wasn't that we didn't want to work with the BHS, we just had
members chomping at our heels to get things done."
Horse & Hound Magazine 8 December 2005