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Compensation for Dog Attack Injuries: Who is Responsible?

Injuries caused by dogs can occur both unexpectedly and unprovoked. Most dog owners could bet their life their dog would never harm anyone or anything, but the truth is we can never know for sure what might set a dog off to cause an injury to someone unexpectedly.

Below we provide some information about the legal rights and avenues to recover compensation for injuries arising from a dog attack.

Who is responsible?

The Companion Animals Act 1998 sets out the legislation concerning companion animals and the responsibilities to be upheld by the owner and the local Council.

Section 25 of the Act provides that:

“(1) The owner of a dog is liable in damages in respect of:

(a) bodily injury to a person caused by the dog wounding or attacking that person, and

(b) damage to the personal property of a person (including clothing) caused by the dog in the course of attacking that person.

(2) This section does not apply in respect of:

(a) an attack by a dog occurring on any property or vehicle of which the owner of the dog is an occupier or on which the dog is ordinarily kept, but only if the person attacked was not lawfully on the property or vehicle and the dog was not a dangerous dogmenacing dog or restricted dog at the time of the attack, or

(b) an attack by a dog that is in immediate response to, and is wholly induced by, intentional provocation of the dog by a person other than the owner of the dog or the owner's employees or agents.”

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This means that the owner is responsible for the attack in a strict sense, meaning that regardless of the owner not intending or expecting for the dog attack to occur, they are liable anyway.

There are limited defences available for the owner, which are listed in section 25(2).

“The owner” of the dog is defined in section 7.

For Dog Owners: Prevention

There are some simple steps you can take to prevent against any likelihood that your dog may injure someone (although certainly not foolproof):

  • socialise your dog over time with new people and other dogs and animals.

  • exercise your dog and take it to new and exciting environments to provide the dog with stimulation.

  • Seek regular checkups from your local vet.

  • If you have any concerns, raise them with a dog behavioural specialist who can undertake further testing and training of your dog.

  • Do not engage your dog in fighting with other dogs or violent behaviours. Do not reward your dog for these behaviours.

  • Consider whether or not your dog should wear a soft muzzle in new or social situations/environments.

Can I claim compensation for my injuries?

If you or someone you know have been injured in a dog attack, you will understand how quickly the medical bills can add up, even if you have private health insurance available. Not only will you have to pay a medical bill for emergency hospital attendance and treatment, but there may be ongoing rehabilitation treatment required, as well as pain medications and anti-biotics, not to mention psychology if you have been affected mentally from the incident.

There are many types of compensation that can be claimed as a result of an injury arising from a dog attack, and can include:

  • a lump sum of compensation for your pain and suffering

  • reimbursement for past and future treatment and hospital expenses

  • reimbursement for past and future wage loss

  • reimbursement for past and future domestic care and assistance

To be successful in achieving compensation from the dog owner, it is necessary to ascertain whether;

  • the dog owner has an insurance policy in place which covers them in the event that their dog causes injury; or

  • the owner has sufficient funds or assets available to pay the compensation.

There’s an old saying that “you can’t get blood out of a stone”. Unfortunately this saying applies here. If the dog owner is not insured, and does not own sufficient assets or have sufficient finances to respond to the claim for compensation, the claim simply may not be recoverable, which we understand is completely unjust. This will not prohibit the owner from being criminally liable for the incident. Further to this it is possible that the dog will be seized and/or destroyed, and the owner may be prevented from owning another dog in the future.

If you or someone you know have been injured, bitten or mauled in a dog attack, and would like more information or wish to make a claim for compensation, Ardent Lawyers may act for you on a “no win no fee” basis to recover compensation on your behalf. Whether you’re located in Berry or Burrill Lake, or anywhere else in the Shoalhaven, we can meet with you at a time and place convenient to you.

If you have any questions, or would like to attend an obligation free meeting to discuss your potential claim, contact Ardent Lawyers on (02) 4444 6808 or contact@ardentlawyers.com.au.