What can you do if you have been attacked by a dog?

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Dog attacks are frightening and often leave both the victim and their loved ones with serious long term issues, whether physical or psychological.

However, save for any injury sustained, what should you do next?

The law in this area is far from simple and there are several pieces of relevant legislation which may be appropriate. But which legislation is appropriate to you?

To some extent the answer lies in what you want to happen. Do you want the owner/keeper to be punished? Do you want action with regard to the dog itself? Do you want to be compensated for your injury and the affect that it has had on your life? Different legislation will afford different remedies.

In all cases, I would recommend that you report the incident to the police, your local council, the local dog warden and perhaps even the RSPCA. Remember to make a note of your police reference number. Gather as much evidence as you can. Be clear in your mind as to exactly what happened.

  • Was the attack unprovoked? 
  • Where were you at the time? 
  • Was it private or public land? 
  • Do you know if the dog concerned has any history of attacks? 
  • Do you know if the dog has an unusual temperament for that type of dog, for example, was it a Retriever with a short temper? 
  • Did the dog have young pups at the time of the attack or was it enclosed in a hot car, for example? Be specific about the circumstances of the attack.
  • Have there been any prior complaints, whether about attacks or the dog's aggressive tendencies?
  • Do you have the owner's full name and address along with details of any pet and/or home insurance?
  • Where there any witnesses? If so, ensure that you have contact details.
  • Take photographs of the incident location, the injuries, any damaged property and the dog itself, if safe to do so

Appropriate legislation may be:

  • Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (as amended 2014) 
  • Dogs Act 1871
  • Dangerous Dogs Act 1989
  • Metropolitan Police Act 1839 and Town Police Clauses Act 1847
  • Offences Against the Person Act 1861
  • Animal Welfare Act 2006
  • Guard Dogs Act 1975
  • Animals Act 1971
  • Occupiers' Liability Acts 1957 and 1984

The common law is also appropriate in that a claim may be framed in:

  • Negligence – failure to take reasonable care and the damage caused is reasonably foreseeable
  • Trespass – animals straying onto your land
  • Nuisance – animal causing significant and persistent noise or smell
  • Occupiers' Liability – precautions not taken against animals on a property you are visiting with the owner's/occupier's permission

Summary of the main legislation

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is criminal legislation available to enforcers to protect people from injury, or fear of injury by dogs. It is used to deal with the most serious incidents and it will usually be the police who instigate proceedings, although local authorities are able to act under this legislation as well. It creates a criminal offence where an irresponsible dog owner allows their dog to be out of control in a public or private place (including home and garden/land) and extends to injury not only to humans but also to assistance dogs. It does not extend to cover trespassers. It allows for dogs to be seized on both public and private land and for the owner/keeper to receive a custodial sentence. Police and local authorities have the power to ensure that steps are taken to prevent attacks by requiring the owner to attended dog training courses, repair escape routes, etc. and requiring a dog to be muzzled in public. A compensatory award may be made, but it is important to consider whether the owner has appropriate insurance and/or the means to settle the claim. A claim can be made under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

The Dogs Act 1871 is appropriate where they may be concerns as to irresponsible dog ownership and is particularly relevant when dealing with attacks on domestic pets or livestock. The Act is also of significant importance when acting for such people as postmen, etc. A complaint must have been made and civil proceedings may be instigated by the police, local authorities, or members of the public. The hearing will be in a Magistrates' Court but the Act is not part of the criminal law. It provides a remedy even when a criminal offence has not been committed and may result in the dog being kept under proper control or destroyed. It applies everywhere, to include in and around a private house. Proceedings must be issued within six months of the attack.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1989 allows a Magistrate to disqualify an owner from having custody of a dog and provides enforcement provisions for breaches of any control order imposed under the 1871 Act. This is in addition to any civil order made under the Dogs Act 1871.

The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 makes it an offence to maliciously wound, cause grievous or actual bodily harm to another. These offences should only be considered in the most extreme circumstances.

When pursuing a prosecution as a result of injury to livestock only, consider the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

The Animals Act 1971 imposes strict civil liability on owners/keepers of animals that cause injury and damage to others whether human or livestock. It is the Act most often relied upon in a personal injury claim and provides a remedy of compensation. It encompasses both dogs of a dangerous species and those normally considered to be non-dangerous.

Where a dog is on the dangerous species list there is no need to prove that the owner/keeper of the dog did anything wrong.

However, where an animal is not normally regarded as inherently dangerous, a three stage test must be considered and all three criteria must be shown in order to bring a successful claim. These tests deal with the specific characteristics of the particular dog and whether these characteristics were known to its owner/keeper and can be summarised as 1) the likelihood test, 2) the characteristic test, and 3) the knowledge test. Unfortunately, this is a complex area of law and even the judiciary have difficulty in interpreting what is meant by "normal characteristics".

When pursing a claim for compensation it is also imperative to consider whether the owner/keeper has the means to pay and/or if they are insured as unfortunately third party insurance for dog attacks is not compulsory at the moment. If there is no means of paying compensation, then a successful claim is rendered meaningless.

The Act does not allow for steps to be taken to force the owner/keeper to control their dog although, of course, a Dog Warden does have this power and any criminal prosecution will deal with any requirements and/or recommendations in this regard.

If a successful criminal prosecution has already taken place, this will stand as evidence in support of a civil claim although you do not need to have a successful prosecution to proceed with your civil claim.

You can claim for:

  • Damages (compensation) for pain, suffering and loss of amenity
  • Lost income
  • Damage to property
  • Damages for care and assistance even if provided by family and friends
  • Medical/surgery costs
  • Prescription and medication charges
  • Travelling expenses
  • Miscellaneous costs incurred as a direct result of the incident

You must either settle your claim or issue Court proceedings within 3 years of the date of the attack. If you do not, you will be barred from pursuing a claim in the future. There are some exceptions to this rule, particularly in relation to children.

Should a remedy not be available to an injured party by way of the Animals Act, it may be possible to pursue a claim under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

I hope that this article has assisted in outlining the law in this area. As you will see it is far from simple!

Should you, or anyone you know, have been affected by a dog attack and should you require advice, please do not hesitate to contact us when we shall be pleased to help.

Don't forget, there is nothing to stop you pursuing both a criminal and a civil claim.

My thanks go to the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs in providing such helpful guidance on their website.

BL Claims Solicitors are here to help

If you would like to talk to someone and discuss a potential claim please call us on 0344 620 6600 anytime between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday, or if you would prefer you can email us at info@blclaims.co.uk