2.1). LANDMARK JUDGEMENT-:
To get a better understanding of the second category, we first need to understand the landmark case of ‘Buckle vs. Holmes1’; in this case the defendant’s cat entered the plaintiff’s premises and killed thirteen pigeons and two bantams, in this case since the cat is an animal harmless by nature to human kind, the question was that, whether the killing of the birds was its vicious propensity and if it was whether the owner was aware of such propensity. The court held that animals belonging to this class such as; dogs, cats, horses, cows etc. are not naturally dangerous, but sometimes develop dangerous propensities which if the owner is aware of is to be held liable. But, until and unless they are acting according to their natural instinct the owner is not to be held liable. Animals such as cats and dogs are in their natural course of
1Buckle vs. Holmes, (1926) 2 K.B. 125, (Leeds, K.B. 1926).
action straying around, the owner cannot be held liable for damages done in this course until and unless negligence is proven. In this case also the cat killed the birds but it was in its natural instinct to kill other small animals, the plaintiff failed to prove any vicious propensity of the cat or the negligence on the side of the owner. That is why the judgement dismissed the petition. This is a landmark case because it provides correct classification of animals harmless by nature, and establishes that animals acting according to their natural instinct cannot make their owners liable for any damage done thereof, and this case also correctly differentiates between vicious and natural propensities.
To conclude the law governing liability for animals one can always quote lord Simons, in reading vs. Lyons and co. ltd. “the law of torts has grown up historically in separate compartments, and beasts have travelled in a compartment of their own”. Although there might be further classification of these compartments as this series suggests, but the gist of this line is that, animal liability is an important segment of the law of tort. And, in this important segment the scienter rule holds a special place because of its broad applicability
and universal acceptance. In India, although the law of tort is not codified, but the courts have time and again relied on the scienter rule to impart justice and establish precedents, the rule of scienter is based on the rule of strict liability explained in the case of Ryland’s vs. fletcher, anyone who keeps an animal dangerous in nature keeps at his/her own peril, and will be liable for any damage done by it. This rule also applies to animal non-dangerous in nature but with a condition that the animal should have a vicious propensity and the owner/keeper of the animal is aware about such propensity. The main problem with this rule is the task of differentiating between dangerous and non-dangerous animal, some animals may be considered dangerous in one geographical setup, while the same may not be said as dangerous in another setup. For e.g. an elephant is considered a dangerous animal in England or the west, but in countries like Burma or India, elephants may not be considered as dangerous because some of them are even bred in captivity. To solve this issue the courts in India need to make decisions not based on English laws but by understanding the situation from an Indian perspective, and not completely basing on precedents because this can only be solved by individual judge’s discretion on a case to case basis.
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