Having young children who fear dogs I am often asked by them whether a dog they encounter on the street would bite them.
All dog owners I have encountered respond that their dog "wouldn't bite anybody".
I am now in the habit of asking those dog owners would they bet their house on it?
Puzzled, most owners respond with a hesitant yes.
I tell them that it's a little-known fact that dog owners can be at serious risk of having to pay significant amounts of compensation for the actions of their pet. Those amounts can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
What many dog owners do not know is that they as a dog owner are liable to compensate a person who is injured if their dog attacks someone.
In many cases the circumstances around the incident do not matter, most importantly for a compensation claim is:
- They own the dog and
- That dog caused injury in an attack.
In the event your dog attacks someone the victim has the ability to make a claim against you for:
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses
- Any assistance they may require relating to the injury from friends and/or family (e.g. mowing the lawn in the event they have a leg injury)
There are cases in New South Wales where courts have ordered the owners of dogs to pay compensation of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Most people don't have that sort of money lying around. That is why I ask would you bet your house on it? If you don't have that money available, an injured person may force you to sell your house to pay the compensation.
It should also be remembered that courts have also held that a dog does not in fact need to make contact with the victim in order for the owner of the dog to be held liable. If a dog has caused injury due to aggressive or other deliberate actions on the dog's part, the owner will be liable to the victim. An example of which was when two dogs were barking at a horse and caused it to buck and throw the victim to the ground. The dog's owners were liable for the injury for the fall from the horse.
Another example which we have all experienced is if your dog playfully jumps up onto a person. If that were to occur and the person falls backwards and injures themselves, the owner is liable. An extreme example is where a dog charged a fence in the owner's front yard. The passer by, who was safely on the other side of the fence, was startled and fell causing him to fracture his wrist. The court awarded compensation to the passer by even though the dog was secured in the front yard.
Steps dog owners can take to protect themselves from a potential claim.
The first and most obvious step in order to protect oneself from such a claim is to ensure that your dog is well trained and under your control. This will naturally prevent an attack from occurring.
Number two a dog owner should obtain appropriate insurance for their pet. This will provide insurance cover if you are unfortunate enough to have your dog cause injury to another person.
Thirdly you should make sure that any area in which you keep your dog is well secured. Dogs can have a knack of escaping from premises and the fact that your pet escapes from your premises would not prevent a dog owner from being liable for compensation which arises as a result of an attack by that dog.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.