Seagull attacks on humans are most likely in Scotland in the period May to July each year
But what about an injury caused by a seagull?
This is what a judge in the Court of Session had to consider in Cathie Kelly’s claim against the owners of the building – an old Victorian school – in Greenock, where she worked.
As she was going out of Ladyburn Business Centre (“LBC”) to get her lunch, an adult seagull dived at Mrs Kelly with outstretched wings.
The bird did not injure her directly; instead, she hurt herself in her effort to get out of its way, as she stumbled and fell.
She claimed that the building owners failed to take reasonable care for her safety.
Her claim was based on occupiers’ liability and – because she was at work at the time – health and safety regulations.
Seagulls protecting their young
In Scotland, and certainly in Moray, you don’t even have to live at the seaside to experience the aggressive behaviour of adult gulls in May and June each year.
There have been reports of direct injuries by seagulls.
In Elgin, during the Summer of 2012, Royal Mail deliveries to Muirfield Road were suspended for a week due to gull attacks on posties.
Where I live, in Lossiemouth, just about every flat roof is a potential nesting site at that time of year.
The gulls are noisy and messy.
Feeding gulls is unlikely to make you popular with your neighbours.
In any case, seagulls are opportunistic scavengers. “Flying rats” is one description I have heard used for them. We have had a burger swiped from a barbecue in our garden when it was left unattended for a couple of minutes.
Some seagulls, such as Aberdeen’s “Sam”, have achieved notoriety for their shoplifting exploits.
Expert evidence about seagulls
From the experience outlined above, it is clear that seagulls are smarter than your average bird and have excellent eyesight.
Two expert witnesses in Mrs Kelly’s case described those and various other gull features, including average weight (0.7kg – 1.2kg), life span (up to 25 years) and habits – adult gulls being lifelong partners who display territorial habits.
The court heard that gull courtship takes place in March and April, with eggs laid in April. Chicks then hatch in May or June.
My experience is that the young birds somehow always seem to manage to get themselves down from their high nests before they can fly. As they wander the streets or shelter in gardens, their parents still feed them and protect them. But they have no road sense and many of them get run over.
Because the young birds are easily hidden from view, you can find yourself under attack from an adult seagull before you’re even aware you’re getting close to one.
Though no grounded baby seagull was identified in Mrs Kelly’s case, the expert evidence was that her frightening “low pass” experience was most likely the result of an adult gull seeing her as a threat to its offspring and trying to warn her off.
Why Cathie Kelly’s claim failed
The court took the view that Mrs Kelly would have to prove that her swooping gull probably had its nest on the roof of LBC, if her claim was to have any chance of succeeding.
Unfortunately for her, she could not do so.
The evidence suggested that not only did LBC have seagull nests on it but so did several roofs on neighbouring buildings.
No one could give direct evidence to say they had seen the gull in question begin its manoeuvre from a nest on LBC.
In those circumstances, the judge was prepared to accept that: “If on building X there are no breeding pairs, for example, and on building Y there are several breeding pairs, it follows that it is likely to be the position that any chick/adult gull involved in a swooping incident such as that involving the pursuer, came from building Y.”
So, Mrs Kelly might have overcome this hurdle if LBC had been the only building in the neighbourhood with seagull nests on it – but, of course, it was not.
Accordingly, the fact that LBC was the closest building to the incident and it had seagulls nesting on it was not enough to allow the court to infer that Mrs Kelly had been attacked by an LBC-based bird.
The future for seagull claims
There are always going to be difficulties with claims where, as counsel in Mrs Kelly’s case pointed out, the agent of the accident (the seagull) is a wild natural thing which is able to come and go as it wishes.
However, some element of control is possible.
The experts in Mrs Kelly’s case described a variety of measures which could be put in place to prevent gulls nesting on buildings. Continual removal of nest material was probably the best option (and one known to be practised successfully on house roofs in Moray).
Many would agree that seagulls are a menace, particularly in the breeding season.
Being attacked by a diving seagull is a sudden and frightening experience, and falling over and hurting yourself a likely outcome – quite apart from the risk of direct injury.
In Mrs Kelly’s case, the court was not persuaded that the owners of the building had sufficient knowledge of any previous history of seagull attacks to mean they had to take “extra” safety measures for workers in the building. As an employee, therefore, make sure you report any near-misses to your employer so they are fixed with knowledge of the the problem before anyone suffers an accident.
As an employer, if your business premises are used as a seagull nesting site and the building is in an isolated location, you may have to think carefully about whether seagull control measures might be necessary.
Contact us for help
If you have any questions about this post or any aspect of Moray Claims / Grigor & Young’s personal injury claims services, feel free to contact me, Peter Brash, or my colleague, Marie Morrison, on 01343 544077.
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