If you have been the victim of a dog attack, you may need to sue the animal’s owner for damages suffered.
Dogs are Man's best friend, often playing the role of protector or companion. But we must remember that they are animals and can sometimes act unpredictably and aggressively towards people. You may come across a stray dog along your daily walk that attacks you for no reason, or your dog may bite one of your children or relatives at home.
Many owners fail to train their dogs correctly, or at all, and some train their dogs to attack and fight. The World Health Organisation estimates that tens of millions of injuries due to dog bites happen every year.
According to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, the majority of victims of dog bites in South Africa, are children.
What to do in the event of a dog bite/attack
Dog bite incidents involving children are on the rise and typically involve guard dog breeds. Events like these cannot be predicted, but do happen. It is important to know how you as an individual could be compensated in the case of a dog attack.
Tips on avoiding dog attacks
The ideal situation is that you avoid any attack involving a dog. Even if you do not own a dog, many other people living around you might. Stray dogs are a common reality on the streets of South Africa. Most of these dogs are relatively small, scared and harmless, but occasionally, you may encounter a bigger, more aggressive dog.
Here are some tips to avoid making the animal aggressive or provoking an attack.
- Avoid making eye contact with the dog, as holding a dog’s gaze can be a sign of aggression.
- Avoid making sudden movements in front of the dog, do not run up to it. If you have to approach the dog, do so slowly and carefully.
- Do not shout aggressively at the dog as this may cause it to rush at you.
- Do not turn your back and run away from the dog, dogs have a strong hunting instinct and it is likely to chase you.
- If you can, cross the road or give the dog a wide berth, staying in the direct line of the dog may cause the dog to see you as a threat.
- If the dog is stray, try to avoid openly holding food. Dogs are scavengers by nature and will be inclined to try and steal your snack.
- If you are visiting a friend with a dog, always ensure you do not threaten or appear to be threatening the owner. The dog will automatically jump to protect his owner, even if the threat is playful.
How to deal with a dog attack
Imagine you are out on an evening stroll with your two children and Jack Russell terrier. As you prepare to cross the road, you notice that the gates of one of the houses opposite you has been left open. The dog from that property, an Alsatian, has walked out the gate and wandered up the road and noticed you. Not wanting to risk an entanglement with this dog, you leave your two children to hold your dog and cross the road to try to usher the dog back into its house, so the rest of your family can cross the road and so that the dog is not hit by a car. Walking carefully up to the dog, the dog suddenly lashes out aggressively and bites down on your arm. You shout out in pain and anger and the dog runs back towards its house.
- The first thing to do when attacked by an animal is to secure yourself and family away from the animal.
- Next, stop and assess if anyone has been hurt and by how much. If the damage is life-threatening, call emergency services. In the case of the above example, only your arm has been bitten and your children and dog are unharmed. You walk across the road, cross elsewhere and continue home.
- Once home, assess the wound more thoroughly. Make sure to clean the wound with water and scrub it with disinfectant. Even in the case of a small bite from an unknown dog, you should go to a doctor for antibiotics and a tetanus shot.
- It is recommended that you speak to the owner of the dog and find out if the dog has had its rabies vaccination.
- Once the injured person has been stabilised, contact the local animal authorities and/or police to report the incident.
If you decide to claim from insurance or the dog owner, you will need to prove ownership of the dog.
If claiming directly from the owner, consulting with personal injury lawyers specialised in dog bite cases will help you to navigate the legalities of proving your case. If the injury is serious enough, the owner may be liable to cover your medical expenses, should you wish to pursue the matter in court.
If the sum is below R10,000, you should approach lawyers who specialise in small claims, and if possible dog bites specifically. You will also need to have the medical documents detailing the injuries as well as the invoices. If you are likely to lose future income as a result of the bite, you need to inform your lawyer and furnish her with any documents to prove this.
I.e If you are a professional football player, and the bite severed a tendon, you would need the doctors and football coaches/ medical staff to testify that you will be unable to work as a result of the bite.
Are you covered by insurance?
Most home and medical insurance policies cover personal injuries resulting from dog bites.
Each dog bite claim must be investigated by the insurance company through contact with the victim. The claim is verified based on good-faith reporting by the victim.
The Animal Matters Amendment Act, 1993 (Act 42 of 1993) among others, provides that a court may make certain directions in respect of injuries caused by animals. Any person as a result of whose negligence an animal causes injury to another person, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years. A court convicting a person may make an order regarding the removal, custody, disposal or destruction of the relevant animal and the recovery of any costs incurred.
As stated above, the owner of the dog is liable for compensating the victim for medical expenses, wage losses, pain and trauma suffered due to the injury. Medical expenses may include but are not limited to emergency medicine, plastic surgery, orthopaedic surgery, hospital stay, antibiotics, X-Rays, CAT scans, physiotherapy and psychotherapy.
Most communities have laws stating that dogs must be leashed unless confined in its home. If the dog was off the leash at the time of the attack or was not compliant with community laws, the owner may be required to pay a higher penalty.
Circumstances that may influence the claim
When launching a claim, there are a number of variables that could work for, or against you. Here are some things you should bear in mind when launching a claim.
- The animal was provoked into an attack, by the victim
- The victim was trespassing on the property where the attack occurred
- The victim was warned of the danger but chose to interact with the animal anyway
- The animal acted in a way “contrary to its nature”, and so the attack could not have been avoided by the owner
- The owner of the animal may be found negligent if he/she could have warned the victim about the dog is aggressive or unpredictable nature prior to the attack.
The best way to go about this is to consult a personal injuries lawyer.
Your lawyer will be able to guide you through the legal process of proving a case.