Are dogs still our best friend?

John Bennett
John Bennett

Published: November 2nd, 2023

7 min read

Recent headlines have suggested some may not be. XL bully's have hit the headlines in recent times with a ban about to be imposed on the ownership of these dogs. Many argue that a breed specific ban is not the solution. Owners will have to register their dogs. Arrange for them to be neutered, muzzled when out in public, on a lead and insured.

Since the pandemic, more people have become dog owners. The pandemic has had an impact on dogs' behaviours as owners' transition back towards work and their social habits change. Studies suggest that dogs have also struggled to adjust to the changes. Unfortunately, this can often manifest itself into behaviours that can cause injuries. There have been examples of dogs attacking people, running into people in the park etc. Although some of these could be described as natural behaviour, they can have a significant impact on others.

The animals act 1971, creates a liability, where damages caused by an animal, which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except, if the damage is of a kind, which is the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause, or which, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe. And the likelihood of damage or of it being severe, was due to characteristics of the animal, which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally found, except at particular times and the particular circumstances and those characteristics were known to the keeper, or were at any time known to a person who had charge of it.

Characteristic is the most important feature when considering liability for injuries caused by animals. Cases have demonstrated that playing boisterously would not create a liability under this legislation. However, a dog that has a tendency to approach, investigate and occasionally bark and jump up at other people, is like it's been within the regulations and create a liability. If a dog is just doing what all dogs do, all of the time, the act is not satisfied.

An owner that knows their dog jumps up or bites in certain circumstances is likely to be liable or if it behaves in such a way, if it feels threatened or finds itself in a constrained space. If has never behaved in that way before, there's unlikely to be any liability. If however, it is foreseeable that the dog might well act in particular way, in particular circumstances, for example, when in pain or trapped, liability could arise.

An example involved two Rottweilers being left in a van on a hot day with the window partially open. The claimant went to pat the dogs and was bitten. The judge found the claimant had contributed to her injury, but there was an easy resolution for the defendant to guard the window and prevent this from happening.

Other examples of where liability may arise. If the character of the dog in certain situations involves territorial aggression, often seen when a delivery person attends a property. Fear aggression, when the dog feels cornered. Maternal aggression, if the dog has a litter of puppies, and is approached by someone. If the keeper knows a dog will be behave this way, they are likely to be liable.

Establishing liability in these cases can be relatively straightforward. The issue is recovery of compensation for the injury and damage caused is more complicated. Responsible dog owners will insure their animals to protect themselves against a personal liability. Unlike road traffic and work place injuries, there is no requirement to hold insurance. Household insurance often provides cover. Without insurance, the owner becomes personally liable. The difficulty any claimant then faces is the issue with whether the defendant has the means satisfy any compensation award and pay the legal cost involved in pursuing the claim.

Here at Forbes Solicitors, we have many years of experiencing dealing with claims such like this. We accept cases on a no-win no fee basis, limiting our costs our success fee to 25%.

By way of example, if the damages recovered amounted to £10,000. If £5,000 of that represented the past losses, as at the date of settlement, and the remaining £5,000 represented future losses, the success fee would be £1,250. If the case settled quickly and the costs recoverable were limited to £600, the success fee would be limited to 100% of those fees i.e. £600 inclusive of VAT. If our costs were £2,000 the success fee would be limited to 25% of the past loss i.e. £1,250 inclusive of VAT.

If the claim involves a child or a person without capacity, we do not charge a success fee and will limit our costs to the costs recoverable from the opponent, providing our advice is followed.

If you, a friend or relative have been involved in an incident involving a dog, contact one of the team here at Forbes, for some no win, no fee, no obligation advice.

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