Court finds that loss of valuable horse was not caused by vet’s breach of duty

An important case regarding the loss of a valuable competition horse was recently heard in the High Court.

The case concerns a vet’s failure to provide further advice about the prospects of a horse’s recovery and return to competition following colic surgery, and, crucially, whether a yard owner would have passed on the information to the owner of the horse had it been provided by the vet.

The Facts

The horse developed colic and was likely to die without urgent surgery. The horse was kept at livery. A vet attended the horse and advised the yard owner (the owner of the horse was not present at the yard at that time) that the horse’s prospects of survival, even with surgery, were 50:50.

The yard owner informed the horse owner that the horse had colic and that it was likely to die. She did not pass on the vet’s comments about the possibility of surgery.

The yard owner advised the vet that the horse owner would not want to explore surgery because the horse would never be able to compete following the surgery. The vet failed to correct the yard owner’s assumption. In fact, there would have been a prospect of the horse returning to competition if the colic surgery had been successful.

On the basis of the limited advice given to the horse owner, she elected to have the horse euthanised.

The horse owner later discovered:-

a) That there was a prospect of treating the colic by surgery; and

b) That the horse would have had a chance of returning to competition if the surgery was successful.

She said that had she known this at the time she would have elected to have the surgery.

The Court found that the vet had breached her duty of care to the horse owner by failing to advise that the horse would have a prospect of returning to competitive work following colic surgery. However, importantly, the Court also concluded that because the yard owner did not pass on any information to the horse owner regarding the possibility of surgery, she would not have passed on the extra information about the prospect of returning to competition, even if the vet had given it.

The Court therefore found that albeit that the vet had breached her duty, that breach had not caused the loss to the horse owner. The owner’s claim against the vet therefore failed.

This interesting case highlights how important it is to agree the extent of a yard owner’s authority to deal with any issues of urgent care where the welfare of a horse is concerned. It should always be agreed at the outset of any livery agreement what kind of urgent treatment the yard owner is authorised to sanction, the costs which the yard owner is permitted to incur and how much information should be passed to the horse owner.

If you wish to discuss the terms of your livery agreement please contact us.

Case: Sheila Harris v Lingfield Equine Ltd and another [2019] EWHC 2822 (Queen’s Bench Division)


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