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NEGLIGENCE BY KEEPERS OF DANGEROUS ANIMALS: ANALYSIS OF ‘ANIMALS FERAE NATURAE’

INTRODUCTION

Any person who is the owner or has the possession or even the control of any animal or ‘creature of nature’ may become accountable for any nuisance or damage created by the animal. The person who owns/possesses/controls such an animal is liable for damages caused by the animal in three ways under the common law. The owner or controller of such animal may firstly become liable under the ordinary law of torts for negligence towards the animal and towards others; The owner or possessor may even become liable without any fault when the animal is classified as dangerous character or when the animal though generally not of dangerous character is in particular of dangerous character to the knowledge of the defending party and Thirdly, the owner can be held liable for cattle trespass.

In the case of Raman v. Cochin Devaswom Board (2015) [1] the Kerala High Court held and pushed the limits of principle of absolute liability established in Rylands v. Fletcher case to cases where the tort is committed by any animal of dangerous nature which in turn results in loss or damage to third party. The ownership of any animal comes with the responsibility and accountability for its actions and damages caused by it, if any. If any person sets a dog to bite another person, he or she is liable for assault & battery in the similar way as if he or she has themselves hit the other person. If any person keeps skunks or pigs in residential areas which cause an ominous smell, he is liable for the nuisance in the same way as if he has kept material stored emitting that offensive stench to the neighbours. In similar nature a person may become liable in negligence if they fail to take proper care of the animal they own and it results in injury & damages to others. These are several examples of how a person can be liable under the ordinary Law of Torts.

The other two types of liability for keepers of dangerous animals under the English law have been codified in the Animals Act 1971 held in the Mirvahedy v. Henley [2]. Section 1 of the Animals Act 1971 allows for the repeal of common law torts pertaining to cattle trespass [3] as well as the old common law scienter action in cases involving animals that are ‘ferae naturae’ or otherwise known to be dangerous. Wild animals that reside and roam in the forests, even though are protected from poaching, are not the property of the state government and the government is not in any sorts liable for injury caused by a wild animal. This rule was provided in the State of HP v. Halli Devi [4] case where a black bear attacked the plaintiff. The two classes of animals are (A) animals of vicious nature (animals ferae naturae); and (B) animals that are not normally of a vicious nature (animals mansuetae naturae).

Animals ferae naturae

Filburn v. People’s Palace and Aquarium Co Ltd, [5] was an English case heard by the Queen’s Bench that held owners of wild animals liable for any harm caused by their creatures which came up with the rule of Animals ferae naturae. If from the experience of human beings, a particular species or category of wild creatures is dangerous, though individuals of that species might be trained or tamed, a person who keeps one of such classes takes the risk of any damage it may cause.

There have been many cases which have classified different animals into savages. Such cases include May v. Burdett (1846) [6] which made monkeys a dangerous category. Cases like Filburn v People’s Palace and Aquarium Co  & Behrens v. Bertram Mills Circus Ltd.(1957)[7]. Elephants were ruled to be ferae naturae in this case, despite the fact that the elephant in question was tame and no more dangerous than a cow. Anybody who owns; possesses or controls a savage animal does so at his peril. He is obligated to keep it under control to prevent it from acting on its proclivity and inflicting harm. If any animal escapes ownership or captivity and causes damage or hurt to someone, it is not necessary for the party injured to show that the owner knew the animal to be especially dangerous. It makes no difference whether the owner is aware of the hazard.

In the case of Nitin walia v. UOI [8] it was held that the dangerous animals kept in the zoo must be kept by zoo authorities in such a manner that under no circumstances these animals are able to cause any injury to any zoo visitor. A tigress was kept in iron bars in the National Zoological Park, Delhi. There were visitors railing before the iron bars. Nitin walia, aged 3 years at that time, crossed the railing and put his right hand into the iron bars when the white tigress suddenly grabbed the hand and crushed it. Nitin’s arm had to be amputated. The zoo authorities were held liable for the nature of the tigress and the damages caused by lack of precaution of keeping the tigress by putting a wire mesh on iron bars or otherwise so as to prevent a child visitor from putting his hand into iron bars. Nitin was paid 12 lakhs+ in compensation by the zoo authorities under liability of “animals ferae naturae”.

Bees are generally ‘ferae naturae’ and when they are hived they become the qualified property of the person who hives them. If the bees fly away from the harvester’s farm to someone else’s place, the harvester loses control over them and is not legally enforced by any right to follow the bees to someone else’s place. This was held in the Kearry v Pattinson (1939) [9].

CONCLUSION

Whoever keeps an animal accustomed to attack and bite mankind, with knowledge that is so accustomed, is prima facie liable in an action on the case at the suit of any person attacked and injured by the animal, without any averment of negligence or default in the securing or taking care of it. The main point of the action is to keep the animal despite learning of its malicious tendencies. The act of retaining such an animal after being notified is considered neglect.  Therefore a single instance of ferocious act by animal towards mankind is sufficient for holding the person owning or possessing that animal liable for tort committed under animal ferae naturae principle.

Author(s) Name: Dikshant Sharma (Himachal Pradesh National Law University Shimla)

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