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Council not liable for accident at horse fair

15 December 2009

Appleby-in-Westmorland Council did not owe a duty of care to a visitor to Appleby Horse Fair, who was kicked in the head and seriously injured by a horse which had broken loose.

The Court of Appeal heard that Mr Glaister was standing on a grass verge with his wife and daughter, watching horses and carriages being raced, when he noticed a horse behind him.

Giving judgment in Glaister and others v Appleby-in-Westmorland Town Council [2009] EWCA Civ 1325, Lord Justice Toulson said: “No one knows who the horse belonged to, where it came from or how it had broken free. Someone called to Mr Glaister to take hold of the tether.

“He was concerned for his family’s safety and about what might happen if the horse strayed into the racing line, and so he tried to take hold of its lead.

“As he bent down to do so, the horse turned and kicked him in the head, causing him serious injury. The accident has left him with permanent disabilities and greatly reduced earning power. At the time of the accident he was aged 44.”

Glaister sued the council for his personal injury. His wife and daughter sued for psychological injuries.

Toulson LJ said the horse fair had taken place for the last few centuries and “probably since the middle ages”. He said that the event attracted several thousand travellers, together with their horses and caravans, and up to 45,000 visitors. The council encouraged visitors to come to the fair by promoting it on its website.

The claimants argued that the council owed a duty of care to visitors to ensure that there was public liability insurance in place to protect them. A recorder at Middlesbrough County Court agreed.

“The town council was not the occupier of the land where Mr Glaister’s accident occurred nor did it cause or direct the various activities of the fair which took place beyond its own boundaries, including the tethering and racing of horses,” Lord Justice Toulson said.

He went on: “The general policy of the law does not extend to holding D legally to blame for injury to C caused by the negligence of T on the ground that D could have prevented it.

“The moral tenet that you shall love your neighbour as yourself, and thus protect him from harm which you can foresee he may suffer from a third person’s fault, has not been converted into a legal principle.”

Toulson LJ said that although the nature of the Appleby Horse Fair made the case unique, the potential significance of the arguments put forward was not so limited.

“Many parish, town or city councils, county councils or regional authorities try in different ways to encourage and support tourism in their area (by which I do not mean land of which the body concerned is the occupier and therefore under a statutory duty of care to visitors).

“In many villages, towns and cities there are annual festivals of one kind or another. They vary in size from the small church fete or village show to big carnivals.

“I would reject the idea that those bodies, public or private, which try to encourage attendance at such events or undertake some responsibility in relation to them thereby expose themselves to legal liability for the negligence of other bodies participating in the event.”

Toulson LJ said he was concerned that fear of the idea could act as a deterrent to those “who freely give their time and energy to encouragement of such events. If that were to happen, the result would be an impoverishment of our community life.”

He allowed the council’s appeal. Lord Justice Jacob and Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, agreed.

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