As a responsible dog owner, receiving notification that someone is pursuing a compensation claim against you after being bitten by your dog can be a shock.
UK research indicates that one in four people have been bitten by a dog in their lifetime, with a third of bites requiring medical attention but only 0.6% requiring hospital attendance. So, while being seriously injured by a dog is relatively rare, any injury to a human which involves your pet will still be a cause for concern.
In the immediate aftermath of a dog bite, the police often become involved to assess if your dog is dangerous or could be considered out of control. The outcome of this investigation could be a warning, fine, banning order or even prison sentence in the most serious of cases.
But regardless of any action the police may take in a criminal capacity, you may still be subjected to civil legal proceedings in the form of a compensation claim made by the injured party.
If this occurs, then you'll need to be aware of the options available in defending a dog related personal injury claim and that you cannot always be held legally responsible for injuries that have been caused by your pet.
Insurance covering dog bite claims.
There are various insurance policies which you may have in place that can cover you in the event that a personal injury claim is made against you as a dog owner.
Should you receive a claim, it's recommended to first check for any possible insurance policy and if cover exists, report the claim to your insurer as soon as possible. They will then take over the handling of the claim and instruct a solicitor to act on your behalf.
If no cover exists, or your insurer refuses to indemnify you, then you need to seek advice from a personal injury defence lawyer.
Dog bites and the law.
For a claimant to be successful in their damages claim they must prove that the owner of the dog was responsible for the actions of the animal, and/or have been negligent in some way.
The Animals Act and dog bites
A key piece of law that is often cited in animal attack cases is the Animals Act 1971. This legislation defines the conditions that a dog’s keeper can be responsible for the behaviour and damage caused by their dog.
The act provides three tests that must be met before the owner or person in possession of the animal can be held liable for any damage that has been caused. Basically, these tests are that:
a. The damage or injury was likely to be caused by the animal unless it was restrained, and
b. It was caused by a characteristic of the animal, and
c. The characteristic was known to the owner or keeper of the animal.
While any dog has the ability to bite, they will generally only ever do this in unusual circumstances which may not be able to be reasonably foreseen by the keeper.
Proving negligence in dog bite cases
Being the owner or handler of a dog, you owe the public and any visitors to your home a 'duty of care' to prevent the animal from injuring them. If a claimant can prove that an owner has breached this duty, and so been negligent, then they may be entitled to compensation.
A person simply being bitten by a dog does not mean that the owner has been negligent. A claimant would need to show that they were aware that the dog attack could happen and failed to take adequate steps to prevent it.
Defences to a dog bite injury.
As you have probably gathered, defending a dog bite compensation claim is a complex task and you should obtain specialist legal advice when faced with a claim.
An experienced solicitor can investigate the circumstances of the incident, as well as the history of the animal, to present all mitigating factors on why you may not be liable for the injuries caused. For example, common defences may include:
When it comes to the law, your beloved family pet is simply considered a piece of property that has inflicted damage on another person. So if you are placed in the position of defending a claim, ensure you seek the legal advice you need and your pet deserves.
Catalyst Law are team of legal professionals with over 20 years' experience helping businesses and people with their legal problems.
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