Following a hearing on 1st and 2nd November 2017 at Stoke-On-Trent County Court, His Honor Judge Rawlings dismissed the claim of Annette (Mimi) Warner in its entirety.
The successful Defendant in the claim, Shona Ferguson of Manorfields Farm, had agreed to accompany Annette Warner to view potential horses for Annette’s purchase for the purpose of a novice rider. Annette Warner had previously been having riding lessons with Jane Kerswell BHSI.
The Claimant and Defendant viewed a horse called Jilly, a 10 year old Thoroughbred mare who was described by the seller as “safe” and “sane” and “ideal for a beginner”. Jilly was viewed at the seller’s premises and at Manorfields Farm (Shona Ferguson’s premises) in an outdoor arena and on the road. Jilly was then vetted and found to have a swelling on her stomach area as a result of which the vet did not recommend that Annette Warner purchased Jilly. On that basis, Shona Ferguson also advised Annette Warner against purchasing Jilly not only because of the potential veterinary costs and the potential that Jilly would not recover from the problem, but also because Jilly’s temperament may change if any pain the swelling was causing, did resolve.
Annette Warner went against the advice of both the vet and Shona Ferguson and purchased Jilly for £200 as the seller said that he would have to send her for meat.
Jilly was purchased by Annette Warner at the end of November 2013 and she then kept Jilly on DIY livery at Manorfields Farm. Shona Ferguson and her witnesses confirmed in evidence that Annette Warner did not accept advice upon how to care for and exercise Jilly and often failed to exercise Jilly for many days at a time.
On Boxing Day 2013 Annette Warner attended Manorfields Farm and said that she was going to go on a hack. She was advised not to do this by Shona Ferguson since the hunt were crossing their land that day. The horse was however ridden in the school without problem as she had been since purchase. Annette Warner did not ride Jilly again until 11th January 2014 when she rode in the school at Manorfields Farm accompanied by her friend, Mr Swain.
In her claim, Annette Warner stated that Jilly trotted and cantered off with her despite Annette Warner asking Jilly to stop. Annette Warner stated that Jilly ran towards the fence and she fell from Jilly causing her significant injuries.
Annette Warner made a claim against Shona Ferguson saying that there was an intention to create legal relations between the parties because Shona Ferguson did accept £30 each time a horse was viewed in respect of her time. This was not a payment that was agreed when Shona Ferguson agreed to accompany Annette Warner to see horses. The court accepted that Shona Ferguson had told Annette Warner that she did not buy and sell horses as a living, she was not an instructor and she was not an expert in selecting horses for their owners. HHJ Rawlings therefore made a finding that there was not an intention to create legal relations.
Annette Warner claimed that Jilly was unsuitable for her regardless of the fact that Jane Kerswell had taught Annette Warner on Jilly on 6 occasions between purchase and the date of the accident (6 ½ weeks). Jilly had behaved impeccably from the date of purchase until the date of the accident regardless of the lack of exercise. The court made a finding that Jilly was suitable for the Claimant’s at the time of purchase and that Shona Ferguson did follow a correct procedure in advising the Claimant to try Jilly at the seller’s premises and at Manorfields Farm and to have Jilly vetted.
The court additionally made a finding that the Claimant had purchased and fitted to Jilly a new bridle between Boxing Day 2013 (when the tack was adjusted to the correct fitting by Shona Ferguson) which was two holes too low in Jilly’s mouth and which may have caused her pain as a result of which she would not stop when asked to by the Claimant. It was also found that Mr Swain had climbed over the arena fence into the arena when he heard Annette Warner’s screams, as a result of which Jilly may have been startled.
Shona Ferguson comments that she is “monumentally relieved to have succeeded in this claim, which ultimately would have resulted in the loss of her house and farm” given the level of damages that would have been payable to Annette Warner plus the Claimant’s costs which were approved by the Court at just short of £84,000. “I felt that I had to defend this claim because it could have had a huge impact on the horse industry if the Courts had made a finding that I was responsible for the accident in question because I accepted a small payment for my time accompanying Mimi to the viewings of three horses (including Jilly) despite my business not being in selling horses and I made it clear to Mimi that I am not an instructor, dealer or expert in assessing horses for purchase. I went as moral support as Mimi was struggling to find a horse due to her lack of experience and she insisted that I take some money for my time after we had visited the first horse. I treated this payment as I would a cup of coffee, sandwich or a bottle of wine as a gift for my time as opposed to payment for services provided. Luckily I was in the position to be able to fight this claim on behalf of the equestrian industry. My immense thanks go to Jacqui Fulton Equine Law and Anne-Marie Taylor FBHS who we called upon as our equestrian expert.”
Since 2013 the costs rules in Personal Injury claims have changed in that Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting (QOCS) applies to a Defendant’s costs meaning that even if the Defendant is successful in their defence of a Personal Injury claim, the Defendant will not be able to recover their legal costs unless the claim is a fraudulent claim. In this case, Annette Warner was not found to be fraudulent however her Solicitors have stated in the letter before action that the claim is being funded by way of a Conditional Fee Agreement which provides for a Success Fee, which is wording used under the old Rules. Accordingly there is to be a costs hearing in January for the Judge to decide whether or not the Claimant will have to pay the Defendant’s costs of defending the claim.
Jacqui Fulton comments that Shona Ferguson was extremely brave in defending this claim to a full trial. Shona was faced with the Claimant’s legal bill of £84,000 plus her own legal costs and any damages awarded to the Claimant which would have been significant due to the severity of the Claimant’s injuries. All for accepting £90 for her time. Whilst Shona was found not to have created a legal relationship with the Claimant, this should be a warning to equestrians who help a friend or acquaintance to purchase a horse; in the event that a person accepts payment to attend the viewings and/or if the purchaser relies on that friend’s advice, the purchase potentially has a claim against the friend/acquaintance if an accident later occurs involving the horse. The findings in Shona’s case assist the equestrian community against personal injury claims of this nature, which have such a negative impact on our sport”.
The Claimant was represented by Simpson Millar Solicitors.
Shona Ferguson was represented by Jacqui Fulton of Equine Law.