The Personal Injury Blog

Keeping Safe in the Great Outdoors

As the warm weather continues and we are all enjoying spending time outdoors, more and more people are discovering the pleasures of strolling in the British countryside. It’s a pastime enjoyed by over 9 million people in England alone. According to the Ramblers Association, 22% of the population of England and almost 32% of the population of Wales go walking in the countryside at least once per month. Most ramblers do so in the knowledge that they are likely to come across hazards and obstacles but can you claim compensation if you injure yourself whilst out walking?

It is worth considering the risks you could be exposed to as you explore the countryside. Problems such as blocked pathways, fallen trees, rusty barbed wire, broken stiles and gates or even cattle in a field are just some of the hazards that present a risk to public safety and may cause injury to walkers.

Injuries on Public Footpaths

One of the key elements in pursuing such a compensation claim is to establish whether the footpath counts as a “highway maintained at the public expense” under the law. Most footpaths or tracks are likely to be deemed as such under the Highways Act of 1980, and Section 41 of that Act requires the Highways Authority to maintain and repair the highway in question. Accordingly the Highways Authority owes a duty of care to people who lawfully use these footpaths.

For example, if you are injured as a result of a broken gate then the “owner” of the gate (the Highways Authority) may have breached the duty of care owed to you by allowing the gate to deteriorate. If the walker can prove causation, ie that the broken gate actually caused the injury, then there would be a valid basis for a public liability claim against the Highways Authority.

It is worth noting that where a footpath crosses private land, the responsibility for the upkeep of these paths falls to the private landowner who may be responsible for a failure to repair. They would most likely seek an indemnity from the Highways Authority who would be responsible for the paths overall condition.

Injuries Caused by Cattle in Fields

Cows grazing in fields can be a picture of tranquillity and indeed cows are generally docile animals, oblivious to walkers crossing their fields. However, if threatened cows can become aggressive and in fact they are currently the most dangerous large animal in the UK. The majority of victims who have sustained injuries in an attack by a cow are farm workers but walkers are also at risk, especially those walking with their dog.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 deals with this issue and bans dairy bulls from being at large in fields crossed by public rights of way. Farmers are also advised not to put calves and their mothers in such fields. Farmers are free to keep cows in fields with public access but they will be liable for any harm or damage caused. The Occupier’s Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 require land managers to show a reasonable duty of care towards other people and in addition the Animals Act 1971 imposes “strict liability” on farmers for injuries caused by their stock.

Dogs have been linked to nearly all fatal attacks by cattle and it is believed that cows see dogs as a threat above humans. In view of this it is sensible to avoid fields with cows whilst walking your dog especially if there are calves present.

If you have been injured in an accident on farmland please do not hesitate to contact us on 0114 218 4233 or email

Jonathan Stittle

Jonathan Stittle, head of our personal injury department, joined Taylor&Emmet in 1986 and became a partner a year later. He studied law in Oxford and Chester and has been a member of the Law Society’s personal injury panel since it was formed in 1994. For more information on this topic email or call him on 0114 218 4049.

1 thought on “Keeping Safe in the Great Outdoors

  1. People never think that these things will happen to them, but they’re more common than you think. You’re right to mention cattle – they can become very aggressive if they feel threatened. It’s always good to bear these things in mind before you go off hiking into the great outdoors.

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