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A Dog Day Afternoon: Dog-bites and the law.

A dog day afternoon….

Where does the liability lie when your dog injures another person or animal? This is an interesting question with a complex answer.

The owner of a dog is liable if the dog causes bodily injury to a person when that injury is caused by wounding or attacking. Likewise the owner is liable for damage to the personal property of a person caused by a dog in the course of attacking that person.

So what can be done to try to limit the liability as a dog owner?

When keeping a dog on your premises the premises should be properly fenced and the dog secured within the premises. There should be no holes in the fence where the dog can escape nor should the dog be able to dig their way out from the property.

Similarly if the dog is kept within the house it is the responsibility of the owner to ensure that the house is secure and the dog cannot escape from the premises through an open door or window.

Strict liability

It is important to remember that liability for a dog attack is strict liability.

That is, if your dog attacks or bites a person you will be considered liable. The only circumstances under which a Court will not consider you liable is if you can establish that the attack occurred as the result of the dog being provoked by the victim or if the attack occurs on your premises and the person being attacked was not lawfully on the property.

Restraining your dog in public

If you take your dog for a walk in a public place the dog must be under the effective control of a competent person by means of a chain, cord or leash attached to the dog.

By way of interest remember that you may be committing an offence even if the dog is leashed if it is taken into certain places, including a children’s play area, school or child care centre, without the express permission of the person controlling the school or centre.

If you are taking your dog for a walk on a leash in a public area and let your dog off the leash to chase a ball and in doing so your dog bites a person you will be held to be liable for the attack as you have failed to restrain and keep your dog under control.

If you and / or your dog is attacked whilst you are walking in a public place and your dog retaliates to the attack you will not be liable for the injury your dog has caused as you would be able, in these circumstances, to establish provocation.

What happens in the case of an accident?

What happens when your dog escapes from your property and attacks a person causing injury? What happens when your dog breaks away from it leash?

If it can be established that your dog was provoked into attacking another animal or person or the attack occurred on your premises and the victim was not lawfully on the premises then you can use this as a defence.

It is important to exercise due care. Try to ensure that your premises are secure when keeping a dog in the yard or house. This is very important as failure to do so could result in a finding of negligence.

What can you do to try to protect yourself from liability in such cases?

Some Home & Contents Insurance policies actually provide cover for certain circumstances when your dog causes injury to people or damage to property. This can also be in circumstances where the injury or damage has occurred away from the insured premises.

For the policy to apply the insured must not be negligent so that an exclusion clause cannot be activated by the insurer.

This means that you should ensure that your dog is secured in your property and always on a leash as discussed above. This way if an incident does occur and you are liable but you have complied with the law to the best of your ability your home and contents insurer may accept liability for the claim

It is important to check whether such coverage is included in your home & contents policy as not all policies offer this coverage.

Dangerous breeds

Every dog owner should be aware that a higher liability is attached to owners of a dangerous dog, menacing dog or restricted dog. Research on the internet or with the local council will provide you with a list of breeds of dogs which have been restricted.

The most common restricted breeds are American Pitbull Terrier or Pitbull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Argentinian Fighting Dog and Brazilian Fighting Dog.

Owning a dog which is considered to be dangerous, menacing or on the restricted breeding list will automatically activate an exclusion clause in most household and contents insurance policies.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 08 8210 5400 or email lawyers@georgiadis.com.au.

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