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Dangerous Dogs

Once again ‘dangerous dogs’ are in the news.  Apparently there are in the region of a 200,000 dog bites in the UK each year, often leaving the victim with permanent physical and psychological scarring.  Quite often victims of dog attacks do not know that they can claim for compensation due to the actions of irresponsible dog owners. 

But dog owners now need to be aware that they are potentially liable for their dogs, whatever the breed.  If an owner has the knowledge that their dog has previously shown a tendency towards aggressive behaviour, or has previously bitten, then they could become liable to pay the injured person compensation for any injuries sustained.  However, this does not always only involve the dog owner, it can also apply to the person who is in control of the dog at the time of the incident – a dog walker for example.

People often think if their dog does not fall under the Dangerous Dogs Act they are not liable.  This is incorrect.  As we say above, if an owner is aware their dog has bitten before and then allows the dog to bite again, they can be held responsible.  So if you are aware your dog has a tendency to bite, you should ensure appropriate measures are taken to ensure this does not happen again.  This may involve muzzling the dog whilst out in public places, or by controlling on a tight lead. 

The Dangerous Dogs Act came into force in May 1991 and it states that any Pit Bull Terrier, (Pit Bull Type), Japanese Tosa and Fila Brazilliero, must be muzzled and on a lead whilst in any public place.  Because these dogs are classed as "dangerous breeds" any injury caused will automatically lead to compensation, irrespective of any previous incidents.  If you own one of these breeds of dog it is an offence not to have them muzzled and on a lead, any failure to do so can lead to a fine, or imprisonment for up to 6 months, or in some cases both.  In addition a clause within the Act, which is applicable to all dogs in the UK, states any dog "dangerously out of control in a public place" would also be destroyed.

It is an unfortunate fact that dog bite claims are on the increase, and statistically children between the ages of 5 to 9 years are most vulnerable.  More than half the incidents involving dog bites require medical attention and a high percentage are fatal.

Attacks by dogs often involve severe injuries which lead to permanent scarring.  Of course, in addition to the physical injury there is the psychological impact, not only from the scarring, but also from the attack itself.  Often the attacks are not just a little bite from a dog, they are vicious aggressive attacks and can involve more than one bite.  An attack by a dog can be incredibly distressing, aside from the physical injury.  In severe cases victims require cognitive behaviour therapy to assist them deal with a phobia of dogs.

Karen Clarke of from our personal injury team welcomes the announcement from the Government of a compulsory insurance on dogs, she says, “Every dog owner needs to be aware of the fact that, in the event their dog causes injury to someone, they may be held liable.”  She goes on to say “It is recognised dogs, to some extent, have a mind of their own, but owners must understand if the dog should turn and attack, it is likely they are going to cause substantial injury.  If the owner has been reckless, or irresponsible, in their control of the dog then they may face a potential claim for compensation.” 

Compulsory insurance would ensure victims had a policy to claim against for any injuries, this policy would also offer protection to the owner in the event they are faced with a claim. 

Finally Karen says, “We have handled several cases involving attacks by dogs, in particular we dealt with one where a young girl was visiting a friend’s house after school  She had sought reassurance from her friend that the dog, which had only been owned the parents of the friend for a few days, was friendly and would not bite her.  Unfortunately after being in the house for a few minutes the dog attacked her biting her calf, shin, ankle and also her bottom.  The wounds had to be stitched and dressed and they left permanent scars which the she found embarrassing, particularly those to her leg.”

“In this particular case we were able to successfully negotiate a settlement through the dog owners home insurance, on the basis that our client had been a lawful visitor to the premises.  Her compensation, in excess of £6,000, has been invested until she reaches the age of 18.  Of course, this compensation will not remove her scars, but in addition we will able to arrange for her to have a course of cognitive behaviour therapy to help her overcome her fear of dogs which developed following the attack, and also help her to adjust to living with permanent scarring.”