In Public Places
The common law divides all animals into two categories. The first category includes all animals and birds which, by habit or training, live in association with man, for example, cats and all common farm animals. The second category includes all remaining animals, and the law deems them to be ‘naturally wild’. The keeper of an animal which belongs to the second category is liable for any injury that animal causes. In such a case it is not necessary to show that the keeper was negligent or that they knew that the particular animal had shown a ‘previous mischievous propensity’. The category to which a particular species of animal belongs is a question of law, the degree of domestication of any individual animal being irrelevant.
The keeper of an animal which belongs to the first category will only be liable for damage caused by that animal upon proof of the keeper's negligence or of their knowledge of the animal's propensity to cause damage of the kind complained of – hence, an action in negligence must be established. The owners of cattle once enjoyed freedom from liability for damage caused by the cattle straying onto the roadway, whether as a result of the owner's negligence or not. This ancient exception was removed by legislation in Tasmania and in such a situation the ordinary principles of negligence will now apply.
On the Owner's Premises
Responsibility here depends on the principles of ‘occupier's liability’. If the occupier has a public liability insurance policy (nowadays most householders' policies include such cover) this will generally provide cover for liability for damage done by animals.
Exceptions from Liability
No liability exists in situations where damage or injury is due to the fault of the person sustaining it (for example, where a person provokes an attack on themselves) or where a person has otherwise accepted the risk of injury.