Although many who may read the recent newspaper article about a dog that chewed through a fibre glass wheel arch on its owner’s Aston Martin may find the story humorous, the point is that a dog bite generally can result in serious injury.
Attacks by dangerous dogs are commonplace. Since 2005 there have been 17 deaths due to dog attacks in the UK. It's estimated that more than 200,000 people a year are bitten by dogs in England alone.
This places considerable cost to the tax payer with the annual cost to the NHS of treating dog attack injuries at approximately £3 million. Attacks by status dogs, aggressive breeds popular with drug dealers and gang members, are on the increase, up 43% nationally in the last five years. However the coalition government drags its feet on the increasingly urgent question of Dangerous Dog Law reform.
Recent guidelines were announced by the Sentencing Council in 2012, introduced a minimum jail terms of six months for owners of dogs who allow them to attack and harm others. However sentences are rarely custodial and action is only taken after a dangerous dog has attacked and injured someone. In Scotland proactive steps have been taken with Dog Control Notices or “Dogbos” which flag up dangerous dogs before an attack takes place.
Many victims of dog attacks are unable to recover personal injury compensation due to the limitations and poor drafting of the relevant legislation, The Animals Act 1971. It's estimated that 6,000 postal workers are attacked and injured by dogs each year but only a small number recover compensation.
So why is there a problem recovering compensation in the civil Courts? The problem lies with the limitations of the Animals Act. Dogs are not classified as dangerous animals and it thus generally necessary to prove that the owner or keeper of dog knew or ought to have known of its dangerous characteristics. In practise many dog owners will argue that their dog had a placid temperament and that the attack was out of character. Such a defence is difficult to overcome without evidence of previous aggressive behaviour. Another serious problem is that many dog owners do not have pet insurance or sufficient means to meet a judgement against them.
When a dog owner is successfully prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 the criminal Courts do have the power to impose compensation orders, but these are normally very modest sums.
Tristan Hallam is a Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
For a free consultation call Slater and Gordon on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we'll be happy to help you.