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.
Receiving a letter from solicitors informing that someone is making an injury claim against you can certainly have a negative impact on your day.
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you may be confronted with a Letter of Claim or a Claim Notification Form which set out full details of the alleged incident and injuries. But no matter what correspondence you receive there will be strict response timeframes set that you will be told you need to abide by.
Often the first reaction to this letter is one of worry, as you may not know how you are going to respond to the claimant solicitors, defend the claim or even pay the compensation.
However, the good news is that the vast majority of claims are usually covered by some kind of insurance policy and we're going to explain the scenarios where insurance may cover the claim well as your options when no insurance is available.
Defending Road Traffic Accidents.
As it's a legal requirement that you must have at least third-party motor insurance to drive on UK roads, the claim is likely to be fully covered by your vehicle insurance. While it is likely your insurer has already been notified of the accident and subsequent claim, your first action should be to advise them of the solicitor documentation you have received.
One important item to remember is that not having the optional 'Legal Expenses Cover' on your policy will not stop your insurance company acting to defend a claim made against you. Comprehensive, fire and theft and third party insurance should all provide sufficient cover to defend the claim against you.
When you report the claim, you will almost certainly be asked about the accident circumstances, vehicle damage and any evidence you have. This will be used to establish liability (fault) for the accident which will determine how your insurance company handles the claim.
Your insurer should then deal with the matter from this point forward including complying with the various deadlines and disclosure requirements. If the case gets to the stage of court proceedings, then your insurer will also appoint a solicitor to defend the case who may also want to discuss the incident with you.
There can be instances where your insurance company refuses to cover you or when you don't have suitable insurance in place for a road collision (i.e. a cyclist injures a pedestrian). In these cases, the claim may be dealt with by the Motor Insurance Bureau who handles uninsured driver claims or you may need to seek your own representation.
Injury Claim by an Employee.
If a member of staff is making a claim for injury, usually your Employers' Liability Insurance will cover your business' legal costs to defend the claim, as well the payment of any compensation that is ultimately awarded.
Often the Claim Notification Form from the claimant will specifically request your insurer's details and instruct you to pass the documents on to them. Once this is done, your business insurer will begin investigating the incident and appoint one of their panel solicitors should it become necessary.
For most businesses that have employees, this type of insurance is compulsory under the appropriately named Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act. However, there are some exceptions where employee insurance isn't mandatory such as:
If an injury claim is made by an employee and no appropriate business insurance covers the claim, then you will need to seek legal advice as soon as possible. There are various 'pre-action' steps and deadlines that need to be met and failing to comply with them can have a significant impact on the cost of the claim.
Injury Claim by a Customer or Member of the Public.
Unlike other types of insurance, taking out Public Liability Insurance is optional for a business. If in place, it will cover your business premises when customers visit you as well as if a member of the public is injured during the course of your work.
While Public Liability Insurance covers you for day-to-day business activities, it often doesn't cover you for injuries caused by a product you have manufactured or supplied. For this Product Liability Insurance is often required.
So you will need to consider which of your insurance policies applies to the circumstances that allegedly caused the claimants injury.
If your business has a suitable Public or Product Liability Insurance policy the claim documentation can be passed on to them. As with Employers' Liability Insurance the policy should cover legal fees to defend the case along with the payment of any compensation that is awarded by the court or agreed in settlement by your insurer.
However, as Product/Public Liability Insurance isn't mandatory and there can be various exclusions depending on the policy purchased, it is the area where we see the most claims that need to be dealt with on a private basis.
Injury Claim Against a Homeowner.
If someone has been injured whilst lawfully on your property or in your home, then your Home Insurance may cover the cost of the claim depending on the accident circumstances. The 'personal liability' or 'liability to the public' section of a Home Insurance Policy often covers the owners and occupiers if they are held responsible for an accident that occurs in or around the property.
Some Home Insurance products even provide cover for policyholders away from the property, so it is a policy always worth checking.
There can however be many exclusions to Home Insurance liability cover, so you will need to consult your policy and speak to your insurer about whether a claim is covered. Common exclusions may be:
I've a personal injury claim against me with no insurance....
After you've exhausted the potential insurance policies that may indemnify you, you may find that you're on your own in dealing with the claim.
At this point it is critical to seek a personal injury defence lawyer who can advise you on how the claim should be handled. They can review the circumstances around the injury, provide a professional opinion of the prospects of the claim and advise on the potential next steps.
Even if you don't wish to defend the claim and want to admit liability for the accident, a defence solicitor will still be able to make sure a suitable settlement is reached with your best interests in mind.
Thanks to a bombardment of TV, radio and online advertising over the last few years, the general public are now well aware of their rights to claim compensation if they've been injured and believe that someone else is to blame.
When these claims are made against a business, either by a member of the public or an employee, it can be a daunting prospect thinking about how to defend the allegations. Especially when you believe that the person's injury claim has little or no merit.
However, there can be partial or full defences levelled against most personal injury (PI) claims so managers and business owners need to have a general awareness of the possible areas a solicitor may explore to defend a case and mitigate the costs of compensation.
Admitting or denying liability in an injury claim.
Firstly, when an injured person (the claimant) makes a compensation claim against a business or individual (the defendant) the question of liability must be considered. Liability is whether the defendant was legally responsible for the incident and the resulting injury, and can also be thought of as being at fault.
When a claim is made a defendant can either:
If a defendant admits full liability, then the claim will come down to the amount of compensation the claimant is entitled to. This amount can still be disputed (i.e. claimant's expenses are not justified) or negotiated (early out of court settlement) to minimise the cost.
If the defendant denies liability or only admits being partially at fault, then a defence to the claim must be entered and there are several broad areas of defence that a solicitor can explore.
Establishing the facts and disputing the claim.
For the claimant to make a successful compensation claim they must prove:
The defendant had a legal duty of care towards the claimant
The defendant acted negligently so was responsible for the accident or incident
The claimant's sustained injuries were caused by the accident or incident
As a defendant you may dispute any of these facts, ranging from how the accident occurred to proving that the injuries and financial losses were not a direct result of the accident.
For example in cases such as a fall on business premises, a defendant may be able to produce CCTV or maintenance records to evidence that there were no hazards in the area and as such were not negligent in their actions.
A company's health and safety policies, procedures and training are often relied on heavily when defending a claim that has occurred at a public place or place of work. So ensuring these records are documented and up to date can be a key evidence in a defence.
Defence against personal injury claim.
In extreme cases the defendant may dispute the fact that the accident even occurred at all and allege that the claimant is acting fraudulently. If evidence supports this allegation then not only can a case be dismissed, but the claimant may find themselves prosecuted and found 'fundamentally dishonest' forcing them to pay a defendant's legal costs.
Alternatively, it may be accepted that there was an injury which was caused by the accident however the defendant may be able to obtain expert evidence to show the claimant is exaggerating their symptoms and losses.
While not a complete defence, contributory negligence is where the injured person is in some way at fault for the accident or incident which caused their injuries. So, while the defendant was partially to blame, so was the claimant.
For example, in road accident claims contributory negligence is often applied in cases where the injured person wasn't wearing a seatbelt. While the defendant may have caused the accident by colliding with the claimant, the injuries the claimant sustained were also partially due to their own negligence in not wearing a seatbelt. As such if the claimant was awarded £4,000 for their injuries but found to have been 25% to blame for contributing to them, only £3,000 would need to be paid by the defendant.
If contributory negligence can be proved, against the claimant or another involved party (i.e. the manufacturer of faulty equipment), it can have a dramatic effect on the final compensation amount awarded.
You may have heard stories about burglars being injured and attempting to sue the owners of a property for compensation. While this could hypothetically occur, a defence for this scenario would be that the claimant was injured whist committing a criminal act.
A defence of 'illegality' can be used where a person was involved in criminal activity at the time of the accident, such as in cases of unlawfully trespassing. In situations such as these the defendant would not have a duty of care towards the claimant and a claim would most likely fail.
Claim is out of time
Someone making an injury claim has three years from the date of the accident or incident to start formal court proceedings (issue a claim with the court). This three-year time limit however is not always straightforward as it may also start from the date the person first had knowledge of the injury which may be several years after the incident that caused it, such as in industrial decease cases. In the case of children, the three-year limitation period doesn’t start until they become an adult on their 18th birthday, so a child injured at age 10 will have until they are 21 to lodge a claim.
These timeframes are dictated by the Limitation Act and if a claim is submitted outside the limitation period it can be very difficult for a claimant to show a valid reason why a claim wasn't submitted in the allowed timeframe. Therefore, often the claim may be dismissed regardless of the injury, circumstances or liability.
Contesting a personal injury claim.
A poorly defended compensation claim can cost your business thousands and in extreme cases result in its closure. While rigorously defending a lost cause is not likely to be cost effective, a thorough and carefully constructed defence can mitigate the compensation your business is exposed to.
If your business is fortunate enough to have relevant employer's liability or public liability insurance in place, then your insurance company may provide a solicitor to fight the PI claim on your behalf. Therefore, when you speak to them it's important to have an idea of what facts you dispute and evidence you can provide to support your case.
If your business doesn't have valid insurance to cover a compensation claim, then it is critical to seek a solicitor to advise you on your defence options as soon as possible. Contesting a personal injury claim can be a complex task, but the sooner you seek advice the better your defence prospects will be.
Catalyst Law are team of legal professionals with over 20 years' experience helping businesses and people with their legal problems.
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