It is fairly common knowledge that the UK is a dog loving nation with an estimated 9 million dogs in the country. Indeed, a recent report by the RSPCA shows there are also 9 million dogs in the UK and a staggering 51 million pets in total. When you consider there are 12 million households (44%) in the UK with pets, it is no surprise that dog attack compensation clams are on the up. In this article we will focus on dog attacks; who is liable, whether you can claim compensation and the legislation involved.
Animals Act 1971
There is a common misconception that the Animals Act 1971 only relates to dangerous species, in this instance dogs, and places a legal obligation on owners to control them. True, there is a legal obligation to control your dog but this is not restricted to those on the dangerous dog list. Before we look at further details of this Act it is worth noting that the keeper of a dog is defined as:
- The head of the household if the dog owner is under 16
- An existing keeper who loses ownership/possession is still liable until a new keeper is found
- The owner who is in possession
In its most basic form the Animals Act 1971 stipulates that the owner of a pet has an obligation to protect the general public. If this legal obligation is not fulfilled then third parties may be able to claim compensation in the event of an injury/accident. While the majority of compensation claims revolve around dog attacks, this is not the only circumstances under which you could claim compensation. The more common claims include:
- A dog attack which requires medical attention
- An accident caused by an uncontrolled dog
- Damage caused to property by a dog
The government has also brought in various legal obligations and acts such as the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 for those owning what are perceived as dangerous animals. This may require the owner to be licensed by the local authority and/or ensure there is insurance cover in place.
Obligations A Dog Owner
As a consequence of the rising numbers of dog attacks in the UK, the government has been forced to take action. This means that:-
- Dog owners are legally obliged to control their pets
- Under the Animal Welfare Act owners are legally obliged to care for their pets
Pet owners are also encouraged to take out insurance which not only covers them in the event of medical attention but also the potential cost of compensation in the event of an attack. While policies will vary from house to house, some household policies will also cover dog owners in the event that they are sued after an attack. In simple terms, control your dog or face the consequences!
It is also worth noting that an attack on another dog resulting in medical attention or worse can also attract compensation. This would be pursued by the owner of the injured dog where there is evidence to suggest a loss of control by the defendant. As with any personal injury compensation claim, there is a three-year window of opportunity from the day of treatment.
Common Dog Attack Compensation Claims
Compensation claims as a consequence of dog attacks can vary but there are some common traits from recent cases. These include:
- An unprovoked attack by a dog which is running free off the lead
- A bite or attack where the dog is on a lead but not sufficiently restrained
- Owners looking to assist their own dogs after coming under attack
- Accidents caused by stray dogs
In reality, the legal obligations of dog owners in the UK are simple and straightforward. If your dog has an aggressive nature then you should also look at using additional restraints such as a muzzle. This not only ensures the dog cannot bite or attack others but also gives the owner peace of mind. Muzzles have also been known to assist with calming dogs – very often they only attack because they feel under threat.
Defending A Dog Attack
There will be cases where a dog owner has given a warning to a third party who may be approaching their pet. The fact it is heavily restrained by a lead or other methods might also be a signal to keep away. So, when considering dog attacks and potential compensation claims it is not always straightforward. Some of the defences available under the Animals Act 1971 include:
- Trespassers – if you can prove your dog reacted to a third party trespassing on private property BUT was not trained to attack trespassers, it may be possible to mitigate the level of compensation or have the case dismissed.
- Contributory negligence – this is a situation where the attack was not wholly the responsibility or fault of the dog owner. In such instances negligence can be shared and compensation payments reduced.
- Volenti – this is a legal term where for example a warning is given regarding the character of the dog and potential to attack but this is ignored by the claimant. In some cases a claim would be dismissed while in others it may lead to reduced compensation.
Even in the event of an obvious dog attack injury it is still the obligation of the claimant to provide evidence of negligence/liability or the case will be dismissed. The premise of innocent until proven guilty still applies.
Common Dog Attack Injuries
With a dog population in the UK of around 9 million it is not difficult to frequently find news articles about dog attacks. Surprisingly, the placid Labrador has been involved in more compensation claims than any other breed. However, in all likelihood this is simply because they are the most popular breed.
Some of the more common dog attack injuries include:-
- Relatively minor bites to the arms and legs
- Serious facial injuries
- Tendon/muscle damage when a dog has locked its jaws onto an individual
- Serious limb damage
- Severe cuts and potential damage to internal organs
As we touched on above, the more common age group susceptible to dog attacks are those under the age of 10. When you bear in mind their slight physique compared to an adult and ease with which many large dogs can lock on, it does not bear thinking about. Permanent scarring is obviously a major problem especially with facial attacks. While it can lead to significant compensation payments, victims are left to live with the aftermath of the attack for the rest of their lives.
Claiming Compensation For A Dog Attack
Whether you have been directly attacked and bitten by a dog, or injured as a result of an accident caused by an uncontrolled dog, from a legal point there is no difference. It is simply a case of proving negligence and liability and then deciding on the level of compensation for successful claims. You could claim for an array of issues including:
- Loss of earnings
- Future loss of earnings
- Medical expenses
These are on top of specific compensation guidance provided by the Judicial College which take into account a variety of injuries. For example:
- Trivial scarring can attract compensation up to £2810.
- Significant scarring could lead to an award of between £7270 and £23,980.
- Severe scarring can lead to compensation of between £23,740 and £77,580.
There are obviously other payment guidelines relating to dog bite injury claims such as cuts, limb damage and other common occurrences. It is highly likely there will come a time when all pet owners are legally obliged to insure their dogs, cats, etc.
In a number of cases the idea of suing a dog owner does not sit right with many in the UK, which has the highest level of dog lovers in the world. While many might simply shrug it off as an “accident” there may be more to this than meets the eye. What if that dog had a history of biting? What if the next attack was on a young defenceless child? Could you live with yourself if you did not report an attack on yourself?
Ultimately, whatever type of dog or character of animal, it is up to the owner to keep them under control. For many dogs involved in bite attacks, or worse, the likelihood is they would be put to sleep and their owners left with a potentially large compensation bill.