If you have ever been bitten by a dog you will know that it doesn’t exactly tickle. Even a little nip from a small puppy can be quite painful but what happens if the bite is more than a nip and you suffer a serious injury?
Will the owner of the dog be responsible for your injury and be liable to pay your medical expenses and possibly damages? This is an interesting question with a complex answer.
The short answer is “YES”!
The owner of the dog will be liable if their dog causes you bodily injury and that injury is caused by wounding or attacking. Similarly, the owner will be liable for damages for any damage to you or your property which is caused by their dog in the course of attacking you. For example, if your clothes are torn during an attack liability may extend to the replacement cost of your clothes.
In NSW, liability for a dog attack is strict liability, pursuant to the Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW). This means that if a dog attacks or bites you in NSW, the dog’s owner(s) will automatically be considered to be responsible (liable). This strict liability does not apply to animal attacks in Queensland.
Can a dog owner limit their liability to you in any way?
While the owner of a dog may take steps to reduce the risk of their canine pal attacking someone, such as making sure their premises are properly fenced and the dog is secured within those premises, or always walking their dog on a leash in a public place, even if these safeguards are put in place, if you are attacked by a dog in NSW, the owner will still be liable for your injuries (subject to the limited exclusions discussed below).
Very limited exceptions to the strict liability rule
There are very limited circumstances under which a Court will not consider the owner of the dog to be liable in NSW.
For example, if it was established that you provoked the dog in some way or if the dog attacked you on the owner’s premises and you were not lawfully on the property when you were attacked a Court would not be likely to find that the owner was liable for your injuries. For example, a dog owner whose dog attacked or bit a burglar while that individual was breaking and entering a property would not be held to be liable for any injuries sustained during the break and enter.
Another example of where a dog owner might not be found to be liable for your injuries would be if you attacked the dog owner or their dog while they were walking in a public place and the dog retaliated and attacked you. Provided that the dog owner could establish that you provoked the attack then they would not be liable for any injuries you sustained.
What to do if you are attacked?
If you are attacked or bitten by a dog you should of course first seek any necessary medical care and attention. Following that, if you have suffered any injuries that you think may be the subject of a claim for damages take photographs of the injuries. If there were any witnesses to the attack, obtain details from them in case you need to contact them in the future. Ideally try to obtain details of their names, addresses and contact phone numbers and/or email addresses.
It is also sensible to seek legal advice as soon as possible in case any further investigations are carried out or any time limits apply to making a claim. Investigations into the circumstances of an attack, including the taking of witness statements, are always best and generally more thorough if they are able to be carried out sooner rather than later and while the details are fresh in everyone’s minds.
Will the dog owner be insured?
Some Home & Contents Insurance policies provide cover for certain circumstances where a dog causes injury to people or damage to property. This insurance may even extend to circumstances where the dog causes the injury or damage away from the insured premises. Enquiries can be undertaken on your behalf to establish whether the dog owner has this type of insurance coverage.
These days many dog owners take out pet insurance to cover vet bills and other expenses. Pet insurance policies also generally have some form of public liability cover for damage or injury caused by dogs. Again, if you have suffered injury or had property damaged as the result of an attack by someone else’s dog, it is worthwhile speaking with us in relation to undertaking investigations to determine whether the dog’s owner has this type of insurance coverage.
Generally a higher liability is attached to owners of dangerous or menacing dogs or dogs that are designated as being ‘restricted’ breeds in NSW such as the American Pitbull Terrier or Pittbull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, Argentinian fighting dog and the Brazilian fighting dog.
Dog owners who have dogs that are considered dangerous, menacing or on the restricted dog list will automatically activate an exclusion clause in most household Home & Contents insurance policies and are unlikely to have insurance coverage.
Being attacked by a dog can be a terrifying experience and in some instances lead to various serious injuries being sustained. Property damage as a result of a dog attack can also quickly add up and with most attacks in NSW being covered by strict liability on the part of the dog’s owner it is important to remember that we may be able to assist you in a claim against the dog’s owner. Even if a dog owner does not have insurance the same strict liability test and limited exceptions apply in NSW, and we can advise you on how best to recover any loss or claim damages that you may be entitled to.