Black labradors not likely to injure severely or kill persons or animals

So held an Extra Division of the Court of Session in a decision published on 9 July 2009 on the application of the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 in a case where the pursuer had been knocked over by the defender's boisterous 25 kg dog Ebony and suffered severe injuries to her knee worth £160,000 in damages if her claim could be sustained.

The 1987 Act imposes strict liability on the keeper of an animal causing injury or damage if "the animal belongs to a species whose members generally are by virtue of their physical attributes or habits likely (unless controlled or restrained) to injure severely or kill persons or animals … and the injury or damage complained of is directly referable to such physical attributes or habits".  Thus in essence the question in this case came to be, "Are fully grown black Labradors, by virtue of their physical attributes or habits, likely (unless controlled or restrained) to injure severely or kill persons or animals?"  The court's answer, formulated by Sir David Edward QC, was in effect No.

Scots Law News' basic sympathy for this outcome was somewhat tempered by an unpleasant experience in Edinburgh's Meadows one morning around the time the decision was published.  An exuberant young spaniel was rushing about off its lead, occasionally called to without any obvious effect by a jogging young mother also pushing a buggy containing an infant.  All of a sudden the dog spotted some pigeons grazing quietly in the grass; and within a second or two it had one of the birds struggling, in the end unsuccessfully, to escape its jaws.  The now standing mother shouted ineffectively at her animal and apologised pathetically to passers-by, explaining that her dog was culling Edinburgh's pigeon population (it wasn't clear therefore that this wasn't a regular occurrence).  One was left with the feeling that however lovable in general the pet might be, some owners do indeed need to learn how to control their potentially lethal weapons, or to concentrate on doing so rather than multi-tasking.  Scots Law News would have taken more seriously than the court (paras 24-25) the words of the pursuer's dog-handling expert:

"When training a dog of whatever size or breed, … it is essential to instil obedience or stop or return commands … A dog in a public place can be seen as a threat and can scare people.  It can run off and get into danger. … If not 'recall-proof', a dog should be kept on a lead when in a public place.  If his dog was running towards someone, he would command it to stop and return to him."