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Once Bitten


Once Bitten

The law is fairly clear cut when it comes to criminal prosecution for dog attacks but is it as straightforward for civil actions? If someone has been injured because of a dog attack, can they claim compensation?

This week we saw headlines relating to a couple jailed over a dangerous dog attack in Paisley. The owners of a Japanese Akita which attacked two women in separate incidents have been jailed and banned from keeping dogs for 20 years.

The law is fairly clear cut when it comes to criminal prosecution for dog attacks but is it as straightforward for civil actions? If someone has been injured because of a dog attack, can they claim compensation?

The starting point is the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987.

The Act works on a ‘strict liability’ basis, meaning that if the Act applies, the defender will be held liable to pay compensation without you having to prove that he was negligent. In most cases, the defender will be the keeper of the animal, who is either the owner of the animal or the person in possession of the animal. Where the animal is owned by a child under the age of 16 the keeper is the person with care and control of that child.

For an animal to fall under the scope of the Act, it must be of a species whose members generally are by virtue of their physical attributes or habits likely (unless controlled or restrained) to injure severely or kill persons or animals, or damage property to a material extent.

Dogs come under this definition and the Act therefore imposes strict liability on keepers even where the dog has never displayed violent tendencies before. However, the injury from a dog must be through a bite or attack for strict liability to apply. The courts have previously determined that where a Labrador jumped up at a person and knocked them over this does not fall within the scope of the Act.

It is therefore possible to claim compensation if you are the victim of an dog attack. However the prospects of recovering compensation is not necessarily straightforward. The cases which are most likely to succeed are those where the keeper of the dog has home or pet insurance covering the animal. There is however no requirement on dog owners to have insurance in respect of their animals. In cases where no such insurance exists your claim relies on the keeper being in a position to personally meet any court judgment made against them.

Another option open to some victims of dog attacks is to make a claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (“CICA”). Such claims are only successful where you can evidence that the dog was used akin to a weapon, i.e. the animal was set upon the injured person by the keeper.

If you are bitten or attacked by a dog, you should- 

  • Identify the dog's keeper
  • Report the incident to police
  • Contact any eyewitnesses, take down their names and contact numbers
  • Contact your local dog warden to find out if the dog has a history of violence or aggression
  • Take photographs of your initial injury, and of any scarring that follows

The law around dog attacks is complex, so it’s important that you speak to solicitors with the experience and knowledge to help you.

If you have suffered an injury as the result of a dog bite please contact Stephanie Watson on 0131 297 5988 or swatson@thorntons-law.co.uk. Alternatively, contact the Personal Injury Team on 0131 225 8705 who will be pleased to assist further.

Posted by Stephanie Watson

Associate

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