Can I sue if a dog attacks me?
There has been a spate of dog attacks in the media lately, so it’s timely to examine the dog laws and what are a person’s options if they are the victim of a dog attack.
Under NSW law dog owners have legal responsibility for their dog’s actions. The owner can be liable for any injury or damage caused by their dog. A victim may be able to claim for damages, compensation, financial loss and medical expenses from the owner.
Nathan Luke of Stacks Law Firm said it would be wise to seek legal advice on this matter as success will depend on the individual circumstances. Generally a claim would be made against the owner’s home and contents insurance or the owner. He warns there are time limits, so seek legal advice early.
“Dog attacks usually happen when the dog is unrestrained in a park with the owner nearby, or the dog escaped a property,” he said. “To be successful in a claim, the victim needs to establish the owner’s negligence in not restraining the dog, and that the dog was not provoked into an attack.”
Injuries caused by a person falling from a horse or bicycle when a dog races up and barks have been found to be grounds to claim for compensation against the owner.
There are exceptions. If the victim provoked the dog, for example by climbing into a back yard where the dog is kept, if the dog was defending its owner or property, or if the victim teased the dog, liability could be waived.
If someone else is in charge of the dog when it attacks then the person who is responsible for the dog at the time, provided they are over the age of 16, can be held liable.
Owners who train or encourage their dogs to be aggressive, harass or threaten a person or another animal can be charged even if the dog didn’t actually cause harm. Police and Corrective Services are exempt.
If a dog injures another dog, compensation can be sought under the Companion Animals Act. This could include compensation for any veterinary bills and medications required because of the injury. Owners of a dog that attacks another animal can be charged with a criminal offence under the Act if the local council decides to prosecute. Owners of “menacing” dogs can be forced by councils to put a muzzle on the dog even if they haven’t bitten anyone.
Dog owners can help to prevent attack and damage by ensuring that their dog is not able to enter public places without proper supervision, by taking precautions to be able to restrain the dog other people are around and by having their dogs properly trained with the assistance of an expert.
For more information please see Dog attack in Sydney park costs owner $50,000.