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Attacked by a dog – can you take legal action?

Being bitten by a dog can be a terrifying experience, leaving lasting scars, both physical and emotional. Worryingly, it is also an increasingly common one.

In the last three years, more than 20,000 people have been admitted to hospital after being attacked but less than a quarter of the dogs involved were seized by police.

West Country incident

Sheila Smith, 65, was attacked in September by a dog, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier-type, in Chippenham.

It lunged at her face, badly biting her lips, leaving her needing multiple stitches. The police are investigating but she remains concerned that the dog could injure someone else, and rightly so.

Is legal action a possibility for people like Sheila?

A successful outcome to a civil claim for compensation may depend upon whether the dog's owner discharged their duty to ensure their pet was properly under control and not a threat to the public. However, the Animals Act 1971 may also provide assistance to the injured party even if there was no negligence on the part of those responsible for the dog.

Chances of winning a case can also be aided by finding out whether the dog has bitten anyone in the past or behaved in an aggressive way.

A pet insurance policy would in all likelihood indemnify the dog owner against a claim brought by someone bitten by the dog. However, many pet owners are unaware that they also have insurance cover to deal with such a claim under their house contents insurance.

When someone is injured by a dog which has been intentionally set upon them, then it is possible to bring a claim against the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) as the animal has been used as a weapon and the injured party is a victim of a crime of violence.

Bitten during the course of your work

More and more people now visit other people's homes in the course of their work - delivering post, working as a carer or home help, checking electricity and gas metres or carrying out repairs to property.

Again, you may be entitled to claim for compensation if bitten during the course of your work.

What is the current law on dangerous dogs?

Although the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) wants the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 changed so dogs are banned on the basis of behaviour rather than breed, under current legislation there only four banned breeds.

These are the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero but of course many other breeds can be potentially dangerous and collies, Labradors and terriers have all been involved in attacks on people, some fatal.

What should you do if you are bitten?

You should try to:

  • Find out who owns the dog
  • Report it to the police
  • Find out if the dog has been aggressive before
  • Tell the local dog warden
  • Take photos of your injury and any subsequent scarring
  • Ask eyewitness to confirm what happened

As there are strict time limits in place to make a personal injury claim in relation to a dog bite, and because the law in this area is complex, it is a good idea to take legal advice to assess your claim.

Contact a member of the Wards' Personal Injury team to arrange a free initial appointment where we will take details of your case, advise you regarding next steps and explore ways of funding a claim.

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