31 March 2016

Guarding the dogs

Dogs and horses might not go hand-in-hand, but it's rare to see a stable yard without a dog. In her latest blog article, Brenda Gilligan, equine law expert, takes a look at the potential for accidents and whether your existing insurance cover is adequate.

A stable yard without at least one dog is a rare sight. They often have no real purpose other than as a tripping hazard, but are part and parcel of the yard scene. To say that they are professional guard dogs would be stretching the imagination, although they can be a watchful eye.

Some premises do keep dogs as actual guard dogs, though they may not call them that to avoid compliance with the Guard Dogs Act 1975. Nevertheless, that is their purpose. A recent case highlights the need to have proper insurance cover in place for dogs at premises at all times, whether they in a guarding role or a pet role.

UK Insurance Ltd -v- Farrow 2016

Briefly, the Farrows, mother and son, had been beef farmers, but were at the time largely scrap dealers, though they kept some horses. They owned a Rottweiler dog, which was kept chained to a telegraph pole near a road. The dog broke free and caused an accident with a motorcyclist, who sued the Farrows. They sought cover from their insurance policy in the normal way.

Their insurers refused to cover them. They argued that the insurance was for the Farrows as "beef farmers" and only covered the dog where it was being used as part of that business, which the insurers argued no longer existed. The insurance also covered the Farrow's bungalow home, but only covered dogs there when they were being used for "private purposes" -in effect, pets. Both parties agreed that the dog did guard the scrapyard, but that he also had a function as a pet when not so doing.

The Farrows argued that they should be covered, as the accident happened when the dog was guarding the business premises, including the bungalow and horses for which there was cover. Alternatively, the dog was in its "pet" role at the time of the accident and so would be covered there.

The court agreed with the insurers. It said the dog's main role was a guard dog for the main scrap business and there was no evidence of a farm business under which the dog was covered. There was no evidence of horses to guard in the yard where the dog was when it escaped and caused the accident. Had there been, the dog might have been covered under the "private purpose" element of the insurance as a pet. It wasn't. The Farrows were without insurance to cover what might have been a valuable claim and would be at risk of losing their assets, including their home, to meet any claim.

Lessons here are: first of all, keep dogs under proper control so as to avoid accidents to start with. Secondly, make sure that any insurance policy you have covers you and your animals at all times, or, at least, find out when you won't be covered and avoid that situation. If in doubt, check directly with the insurers. There's a lot to lose with no insurance.

As with any legal advice, if in doubt, seek the advice of a qualified solicitor - either me or my colleagues are there to help.

[This blog post first appeared as an article in the March 2016 edition of Lincolnshire Today magazine]

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