Horse Fair Victim's Claim Against Council Rejected

horse From CPD Webinars 14/12/09:

Geoffrey Glaister a County Durham man left with brain damage after being kicked by a horse at the 2004 Appleby Horse fair, has been blocked from claiming compensation.
Earlier this year a county court ruled his family could seek compensation from Appleby Town Council.   The court heard Mr Glaister, tried to grab hold of the untethered horse's rein because he feared it posed a risk to his wife and daughter. He suffered "catastrophic" injuries when the horse kicked him as he bent down, leaving him with permanent disabilities and "greatly reduced earning power".

In March, he was awarded the right to seek compensation by a Middlesbrough County Court judge, who said the town council had negligently failed to arrange public liability insurance for the event.

But Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Toulson, said the county court decision was "wrong in law" and the town council owed no duty of care to ensure the safe segregation and supervision of horses, or to arrange public liability insurance for the event.

Sitting with Lord Neuberger, and Lord Justice Jacob, he agreed Mr Glaister had acted in a "selfless and public spirited way". But he said the town council was not the occupier of the land in question and did not have direct control over the way the horse fair was run.
The court heard the town council owns only some of the land used in the event, but not the area where Mr Glaister was injured.

This is one of the those very tricky cases where the concepts of fairness on the one hand and rigid legal principles on the other dictate opposing outcomes.   It is a very delicate balance to strike to ensure that high safety standards of public events are adhered to without being so overbearing that it needlessly discourages event organisers. 

Public liability insurance is, of course, optional, though very advisable when hosting public events.  However, in the specific circumstances, it seems there is little doubt that the town council was not the event organiser, did not own all the land on which the event was occurring and in any case, did not have control over the way the event was run. 

But an even more fundamental question should be asked in this case: could a claim for negligence be made out against anybody associated with the horse fair?  The horse became untethered but was the injury foreseeable?  Mr Glaister courageously intervened and was injured in doing so but it's perfectly possible, of course, that in the same circumstances, the horse could have been re-tethered without drama. 

Still, although Mr Glaister's claim against the council has failed, he surely would still have a potential avenue for redress against someone - making the allegation that he has been 'blocked from claiming compensation' a touch misleading. Whether the claim against, say, the person who failed the securely tether the horse was successful, though, would be another matter all together. The council would have been the preferred defendant on the basis of their deeper pockets.


  1. Over the years, there have been questions raised concerning the safety at Appleby Fair. It is essentially a travellers horse trading event, that has also become a bit of a tourist attraction. I have my doubts as to whether Mr Glaister would be able to locate the horse owner or organisers, given their transient lifestyle, which is perhaps why he claimed against the local council instead.

  2. Could well be, BM. I thought you might be first to comment on this one! ;-)

    Perhaps it’s time for public liability insurance to be made compulsory for any event deemed to be a ‘public’ one and an organiser be nominated who can prove the necessary safeguards and insurance are in place.

    (I realise that there are equally good reasons for not doing this, though)! :-)


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