Dog attacks are on the rise, in 2019 it was estimated that 8,859 people across England needed hospital treatment following a dog attack, up 52% in the last decade. Being attacked by a dog can cause major trauma – not only physical injuries which are usually bites but also psychological injuries that can have a lifelong effect on the injured person. Serious dog bites can leave people needing reconstructive surgery and sadly dog attacks can also prove fatal.
In some circumstances, it is possible to bring a claim for damages following major trauma injuries caused by a dog, and this is covered in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
What does the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 say?
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 makes it a criminal offence for a dog to be ‘out of control in a public place’ and was amended in 2014 to include incidents on private property including inside homes. A dog is considered to be dangerously out of control if it injures someone or causes someone to have a reasonable fear that they could be injured. The act also provides a defence if a dog attacks an intruder in the home, but confusingly, not in the private garden of a house.
The Act does not cover a dog on dog attack, unless the dog who is attacked is an assistance dog.
The Act has become infamous for its Breed Specific Legislation (‘BSL’) which placed a ban on the keeping, breeding or rehoming of four breeds, the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brazilero which it deemed to be dangerous to people. Dogs of these type, or cross breeds thereof, can be seized by the Police and assessed as to whether they are dangerous. If deemed not to be dangerous, they can be returned to their owner, with strict restrictions imposed requiring the dog to be on a lead and muzzled whenever in public and the dog must be tattooed, chipped and insured as well as registered on the index of Exempted Breeds. Those assessed to be dangerous are euthanised.
However it’s important to remember the Act applies to ALL dogs, and aggression in dogs has little to do with their breed but instead is caused by factors including their breeding, early socialisation and training, as well as their life experiences.
Can I make a claim for major trauma injury following a dog attack?
It may be possible to bring a clam following an attack by a dog, provided the incident was not your fault, so for example you were not provoking the dog and had not entered a property without the owners’ permission. A three year time limit applies to dog bite claims for adults, different rules apply to children who must issue court proceedings before their 21st birthday.
The incident should be reported to the Police and medical treatment sought – as part of any claim, your medical records will be obtained to assist with your case. It’s also a good idea to take photographs of your injuries and to try to obtain the contact details for the owner of the dog, although this may not always be possible.
If a claim is possible, it generally will be made against the owner of the dog, as it is their responsibility to prevent their dog from acting dangerously and causing harm to someone. Many dog owners have pet insurance and any compensation will be paid by the insurance company. It may still be possible to bring a claim if the owner cannot be identified.
Case Study – Maria – bit by a dog that was off it’s lead
In 2018, Maria was walking home from work on a footpath that crossed a park, popular with dog walkers.
A dog that was being exercised off lead approached her and bit her arm and elbow for no apparent reason. She was admitted to hospital where she needed an operation and subsequent plastic surgery treatment on the bite marks left by the dog.
Along with the physical pain caused by the injury, Maria suffered psychological distress as a result of the incident. Maria had previously enjoyed spending time with friends and family who owned dogs themselves, but after the incident struggled to be around dogs.
A claim was made against the owner of the dog, who admitted liability, and compensation for her physical and psychological injuries was agreed between the parties.
Case study – David – attacked by an unaccompanied dog
David, a 45 year old man, was walking his dog along a road close to his home, when an unaccompanied dog attacked his pet. Whilst trying to prevent his dog from being injured, the unaccompanied dog bit his right arm multiple times. David’s dog had to be put to sleep as a result of the attack and David required hospital treatment, leaving him with severe scarring and loss of muscle strength.
The owner of the dog was traced and a claim brought against him.
During the investigation it was established that the dog was known to have an aggressive nature and its owner had failed to ensure the dog was securely contained within its home as well as failing to ensure the dog was kept on a lead and muzzled in public. The owner in this case denied liability for the incident, but a settlement was reached shortly before trial resulting in David obtaining compensation for his injuries.
How can Major Trauma Group help?
Major Trauma Group is a network of specialist serious injury law firms, experienced in dealing with claims following major trauma. We assist clients throughout England and Wales in getting compensation to support their recovery. Our emphasis on early rehabilitation is supported by a medical clinician with rehabilitation expertise, as well as highly experienced independent financial advisers and case managers; all working with you to support your claim.