The UK is renowned as a dog loving country with research suggesting that UK dog owners spend more per pet than anywhere else in Europe. As a consequence, as we move in to the summertime you will likely come into contact with more and more dogs on walks with their owners. In the vast majority of encounters there will be no aggression and no biting – often just cuddles and kisses, from the dogs. However, there may be occasions where you might need to take evasive action to avoid a dog attack.
In the event that you are attacked by a dog, there are a number of factors to take into consideration should you wish to make a dog bite injury claim.
Dog Attacks In The UK
A recent survey showed that between April 2017 and March 2018 there were just over 1300 individuals hospitalised in England due to a dog attack. While the majority of these involve bite injuries we’ve also seen many instances of dogs pushing people over and causing injury. When you consider the number of individuals who will have been attacked but not sought hospital treatment we can only estimate the overall figure.
The UK government has taken action to address the issue of dog attacks in the UK. Indeed some dogs have been banned having been deemed “dangerous” and a risk to the public. The banned list, as defined by the Dangerous Dog Act 1991, currently consists of:-
- Fila Brasilerio
- Dogo Argentino
- Japanese Tosa
- Pit bull terrier
Unfortunately, any of these dogs found in the UK could be taken into custody and subjected to euthanasia. It is worth noting that any of the dogs on the above list do not need to have attacked anybody, or even shown aggression, to be put to sleep. It is simply a case that the authorities have deemed these dog breeds too dangerous for the UK.
While it is unlawful to keep any of the above dogs in the UK it is worth noting that it is also against the law to:-
- Sell a banned dog
- Abandoned a banned dog
- Breed from a banned dog – even if this is a crossbreed
- Give away a banned dog
It will take some time, and there are obviously heartbreaking stories, but the end goal is that the UK will be free of all of the above breeds of banned dog, rightly or wrongly.
Understanding Why Dogs Attack
To those who have experienced what can be a painful and distressing dog injury it is often difficult to understand why these animals attack. However, over the years we have seen research published which shows the stages from a relatively calm dog to one which has attacked. These include:-
- Backing away – most dogs will back away from a confrontational situation
- Barking is the first warning sign that a dog is becoming distressed
- When a dog starts to show its teeth this is a warning sign not to come near
- The majority of dogs will only attack (bite or push) when they feel cornered
As with human beings, all dogs will have their own personality and individual characteristics which may include heightened aggression, nervousness and other emotions. It is worth noting that any dog can attack but the vast majority of animals tend to give one or more warning signs.
Who Is Responsible For A Dog Attack?
It seems fairly obvious to assume the dog owner/keeper at the time is responsible for an attack and any injuries incurred. In the vast majority of cases this may be a perfectly valid initial impression but when you dig a little deeper it is not always the case. There are many factors to take into consideration such as:-
Was the dog under control?
It is the responsibility of all dog owners to ensure that their dogs are under control at all times. If a dog is off the lead, even if it is the most obedient animal in the world, it is difficult to prove that it was under control. As a consequence, assuming that the animal approached the injured party it would be difficult to fight claims of negligence and liability for compensation.
Surprisingly, even if a dog was on private property and attacked a trespasser they may still have a case for compensation. In simple form, the owner/keeper of a dog must ensure that it is under control at all times.
Warning people not to approach
As we all know, some dogs are more prone to attack due to reasons as varied as being extremely nervous around people or simply aggressive. If a dog owner/keeper issues a warning to individuals approaching the animal they may be able to prove they fulfilled their own legal obligations. Any sensible person would refrain from approaching such an animal therefore those that do so may at best be partly to blame for any consequent injuries. Indeed, in many situations a claim for compensation may well be refused.
Muzzles and restraints
This is a very interesting area of law because if an animal has a history of aggression, they need not necessarily have attacked anybody, then any responsible owner might be expected to have a muzzle or similar type of restraint on their dog. This ensures that the dog is not put in a situation where it may attack and also ensures that innocent passers-by are protected from the animal. In many cases this would cover the legal obligation of the owner/keeper to keep the animal under control and those who approach, it could be argued, do so at their own risk.
Unfortunately, stray dogs are still far too commonplace across the UK and due to the situation in which many find themselves; they can be aggressive or extremely defensive. If you are ever bitten by a stray dog you should attempt to trace the owner and take action against them. There will also be situations where the council may well be liable for compensation if it was proven that the dog was a stray for some time, they had been warned but failed to take action. There is also an added risk of infection from stray dogs as they may have to rifle through bins and eat infected food just to survive.
We can look at ways in which to control dogs, warnings given by owner/keepers and even the introduction of muzzles and other restraints. However, many people will be surprised that the law also takes into account a degree of common sense. If you decide to approach a dog uninvited, maybe to stroke it or pat it, then you may be partially responsible for any injuries incurred. The animal is quite within its rights, assuming it is under control, to protect itself to a certain degree. After all, the dog is not aware if you are a friend or foe.
Dog Attacks And Medical Treatment
If you have been bitten by a dog and the bite has “broken the skin” it is highly advisable to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. There are a number of medical issues to take into consideration such as:-
- Rabies – a potentially fatal disease
- Tetanus – a conditioned where a wound is infected by bacteria
- General infection
- Blood loss
There are various signs that a dog bite may be infected such as:-
- Visible red streaks across the skin
- Swollen glands
- Sweats and chills
- Pus/liquid leaking from the wound
- Swelling around the wound area
It is far too easy to automatically assume that even a relatively light dog bite may not require attention. If left untreated, these symptoms can very quickly worsen with potentially deadly repercussions.
It is worth noting that while physical injuries tend to grab the headlines, the mental scars left behind after a dog attack can be extremely deep and in some cases life changing. They can lead to a change in personality and on occasion impact an individual’s ability to work. The knock-on effect to career prospects, income and standard of living can sometimes lead to significant compensation payments.
Over the years we have seen governments attempt to push through a law requiring the compulsory acquisition of pet insurance. This would not only cover veterinary bills but also compensation and medical costs associated with dog bites/strike injuries. So far the politicians have failed to push through such regulations but no doubt this will be an ongoing issue for some time to come.
As the summer months are now here there will be an increased risk of dog attacks with more people and dog owners out and about. While it is ultimately the responsibility of the dog owner/keeper to maintain control of the animal, third parties also have a responsibility to act with a degree of common sense. If the dog owner/keeper has taken precautions to keep the animal under control, and in some circumstances issued warnings to passers-by, it is possible they could successfully defend a claim for compensation.