Increase in Dangerous and Illegal Dogs in the West Midlands

The subject of dangerous dogs is featuring heavily in the news at the moment, and there is a continuing problem of dangerous and illegal dogs in the West Midlands.

Although the majority of dog owners are responsible and care for their animals, sadly certain individuals choose particular breeds of dog, some of which are already illegal, for use in criminal activities or as ‘protection’ dogs, creating an animal which is out of control, aggressive and dangerous, through no fault of its own.

Many dog owners and victims alike will be uncertain of the laws surrounding dog attacks.  If you are the owner, are you liable if your dog injures or attacks somebody?  If you are the victim of an attack, can you claim for compensation and press criminal charges?

Responsible owners of dogs would not be held responsible as they ensure their dogs are kept under sufficient control so as to avoid causing anyone any injury.  In fact a large majority of dog owners themselves are concerned that there are a small minority who mistreat dogs which can often result in the dog turning and attacking someone innocent.

The reality of dog bite attacks is that they 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 often 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 to deal with a phobia of dogs. It is also 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.

For successful compensation claims a dog owner would only be potentially liable for injuries if their breed of dog falls under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 or if they had the knowledge that their dog has previously shown a tendency of aggressive behaviour, or has previously bitten.  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 liable for destruction.

In addition, for a successful claim the dog either has to be listed under the Dangerous Dogs Act or proof has to be obtained that the owner should have known that their dog would attack in the given circumstances of the case.  Often either of these things can be proved but victims are left uncompensated because the owner of the dog has no insurance or money to cover the compensation for the victim.  The victim is then left with permanent scarring and distress with no recompense.

I am disappointed that in March 2010 the Government announced a compulsory insurance on dogs but then ruled it out only a week later they on the basis that they “did not want to penalise responsible owners”. There are a staggering 200,000 dog bites in the UK each year, often leaving the victim with permanent physical and psychological scarring.  Responsible owners would have nothing to fear - if you are responsible with your dog, these incidents are likely to be avoided.  In addition, irresponsible owners of dogs would be highlighted as insurance companies would be aware of the claims being made.

Often victims of dog attacks do not know that they can claim for compensation due to the actions of irresponsible dog owners.  It is a very sad fact that some people who own dogs do not take responsibility for them or indeed choose a particular breed to use to attack or for dog fighting. 

I would urge anyone who has concerns about a dog having a vicious nature to report it immediately to the Police.  Often attacks are not reported to the Police which means there is no evidence of an owner’s irresponsibility and no way of knowing which owners need education on how to control the dog.  Similarly there would be no records of where owners are using dogs inappropriately.

If you have been bitten by a dog contact a local solicitor who specialises in dog attacks, as you may be eligible for a compensation claim.