French dog owners ordered to pay for horse accident

The owners of two dogs that inadvertently caused a serious horse-riding accident have been deemed responsible, and ordered to pay €815,000 in compensation and costs, a French court has ruled.

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The decision stands even though the dogs did not come within 10 metres of the horse or its rider.

The Court of Appeal ruling referred to an accident in which a woman fell off a horse while out riding with a friend (who was on another horse), causing her to fall into a coma due to brain damage. Two dogs were found to have run out quickly several metres away in front of the horses, spooking at least one of them, and prompting the accident.

The dogs were found to have scared the horses, and the dog owners were ordered to pay €815,000 in compensation, costs and damages to the victim’s side. It is the owners' insurance companies who are expected to pay, under their responsabilité civile cover.

The owners had sought to appeal the decision, arguing that assigning responsibility to them suggested that they had taken an active role in causing the accident, which they denied. The owners also said that in this case, their dogs had not even been within 10 metres of the horses, and that they had not behaved in an unusual or aggressive way.

But the other side argued that the horses had been sufficiently panicked by the dogs simply by seeing them, causing one of the horses to bolt, and prompting the accident.

The court agreed, saying that there was no other reason that the injured horse-rider in question would have fallen off her horse in this case, as she was an experienced and high-level rider.

The court ruled that the two big dogs - running free and playing off their leads - had appeared in the horses’ vision without warning, and surprised the first horse enough to cause the accident. The court said there was a “causal link” between the dogs’ behaviour and the incident.

The ruling said: “Dog owners must make sure that their dogs do not scare animals or people encountered on a public path.”

The dog owners were therefore ordered to compensate the victim, and pay extra damages to the victim’s parents in light of the seriousness of their daughter’s injuries.

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