Watch Out For Animals! (Throwback Thursday)

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By Ken Fox

The early 20th Century might have been a low point in human-animal relations. Just browse through the 5th edition of Gibb’s Collisions on Land – on almost every page you’ll find examples of four-legged street-users bumping into us two-leggers and our various automated vehicles.

One article that particularly struck my mind is titled “LOOK OUT” –

It is the duty of all road-users at all times to keep a look-out so as to avoid colliding with other road-users.”

Seems sensible – but what does the definition of “road-user” encompass?

“A tramcar at night collided with the pursuer, who was carefully driving two cows along the road. There was no evidence for the pursuer as to how this happened. Held, that the Judge who tried the case might properly infer that the accident was due to faulty look-out by the driver.”

Well of course – the tram driver is to blame (at least I think that’s what it’s saying). But what if the animal caused the injury?

“The driver of a horse yoked to a road-brusher, drawn up on a piece of vacant ground, was removing a nose-bag from the horse’s head, when it suddenly backed and injured a woman. Held, that the driver was not guilty of negligence in failing to look behind before removing the nosebag.”

And by corollary, it was the woman’s duty to keep a lookout so as to avoid colliding with the backside of a horse. I think I could get behind that as well.

But check this out:

“On a dark, snowy night a woman in crossing the street turned back to avoid a vehicle and was knocked down by defendant’s omnibus. The driver at the moment had turned round to speak to the conductor. Held, no negligence: it was as much the woman’s duty to take care not to collide with the bus as the bus driver’s not to collide with her.”

So the bus driver did have a duty not to collide with a woman, as much as she had a duty not to collide with the ominous omnibus, but nevertheless the driver was not negligent. This must have been before the courts gave us such things as apportionment and contributory negligence. But obviously what’s really happening here is that there were no animals for the law to protect.

And one more example:

“It was held that there was a duty on the part of a lorry driver to avoid running over a dog which was performing a natural function on the street.”

No duty for the dog? I guess you could say the dog was doing its duty, which has stayed the same throughout history (except, more recently, a dog (or its owner, at least) was held partly responsible for a collision causing injury).

On the public streets a century ago, it seems merely human pedestrians were fair game – but god help you if you collide with an aardvark, buffalo, yak or zebra.

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