Udderly Tragic: A cautionary tale of cows and duty of care
It is generally understood that an employer owes a duty of care to ensure that their workplace practices do not put their employees in danger of illness or injury.
What is less understood is that this duty can also extend to members of the public.
A recent decision from the United Kingdom is a fascinating example of how the duty of care applies to members of the public and how a failure to take adequate precautions can lead to prosecution.
In this instance, a woman was almost killed after she was trampled by cows as she was walking along a public footpath. The woman in this case was forced to spend 9 weeks in hospital, 5 of which were in critical care as she suffered very serious injuries, including punctured lungs, broken ribs, and spinal and facial fractures as a result of the incident.
The farmer pleaded guilty and was fined a total of £12,000 (approx. $23,275.26 AUD) and ordered to pay £8,885 (approx. $17,244.54 AUD) in court costs for failing to have adequate mechanisms in place to protect members of the public against injury from a reasonably foreseeable risk.
The key finding which formed the basis for the prosecution was that the path was well used by locals but the farmer had not assessed the risk to members of the public when putting cows with calves in the field alongside the path.
The Court held that the risk of injury was clearly foreseeable in this instance as the farmer ought to have known that members of the public using the path would be at risk of injury when considering the aggressive and protective nature of cows protecting their young.
Lesson to be learnt
It was highlighted that the farmer could have had appropriate fencing and signs in order to mitigate the risks of someone coming to harm.
This decision highlights the importance of having adequate controls in place to properly manage and prevent foreseeable risks from injuring members of the public and that it is ever so important that employers consider and properly manage the circumstances in which their operations may pose a risk of injury to members of the public, particularly in areas that are accessible to members of the public.