Dogbites and the Animals act 1971

The Animals Act can be very confusing, so here we aim to make it easier to understand.  In short, the Act provides that the keeper of an animal is liable for any damage it causes, if they knew it was likely to cause such damage or injury if not restrained.

1 in 4 UK households own at least one dog, making there around 6.3 million dogs in the UK.  For years the postman being bitten by the dog has been a source of entertainment, but for the estimated 20,000 postmen who suffer dog bites each year, it is a joke that has worn thin.

Until the government decides to make third party insurance for dog attacks compulsory, and make it possible to claim for dog attacks just by proving an that an attack occurred and resulted in an injury, solicitors have to rely on the Animals Act 1971 to seek damages for the victims of dog attacks.

When a dog bites a person, the owner or keeper of the dog may be liable either under the Animals Act 1971 or in negligence.  Under the Act, there is no need to prove that the owner or keeper of the dog did anything wrong if the damage was done by a dog not on the dangerous species list.  However, if it is known that that animal had certain characteristics, then the injury suffered must result from the particular characteristics that the dog was known to have.  These characteristics could be shared with other animals in the species, and might only show at a particular time of year (for example when defending a litter of puppies) or in other certain conditions (for example the back of a car).

The Act does not name dogs in general as a dangerous species, but does make it clear that:

1.    If the damage is of a kind which the animal was likely to cause unless it was restrained, or

2.    Which was likely to be severe if the animal got the chance to cause it, and the dog had certain characteristics that make it more dangerous that other dogs of its species (e.g. it is a violent dog, or prone to biting),  and

3.    That those characteristics were known to its keeper. 

Each of these points has to be proved.

1. If the damage is of a kind which the animal was likely to cause unless it was restrained

e.g. the animal was an Alsatian breed, and if it did bite anyone, the damage was likely to be severe.

e.g. the animal was a small Bull Mastiff who weighed 10 stones and had big teeth and a large mouth.

2. The damage was likely to be severe if the animal got the chance to cause it, and the dog had certain characteristics that make it more dangerous that other dogs of its species (e.g. it is a violent dog, or prone to biting)

Dogs are not normally fierce and do not usually attack humans, but a dog that often does this in most places and who does not appear to care who his victims are would have a ‘permanent characteristic’.

Dogs that are only aggressive in certain situations, e.g. when guarding a litter of pups or guarding their territory would only be classed as having a ‘temporary abnormal characteristic’.  This is the most common point that is relied on in dog bite cases.

Take the Alsatian mentioned before – let’s say he ran round and round in circles when someone approached the door e.g. the postman.  This could be a ‘temporary abnormal characteristic’.

If the characteristic is aggressive behaviour when the postman calls, or when guarding a litter of pups, then the injury from the bite must have been caused at a time when the postman was there, or the bitch had her pups with or near her.

If the Bull Mastiff with regarded the back of the car that he was being transported in as part of his territory, then it would be held as such, so that attack was in a situation where this behaviour was prone to be exhibited.

3. Those characteristics were known to its keeper. 

The keeper must be proved to have known of the characteristic that the dog possesses.  It is often easier to prove this if you know of a specific incident that has occurred previously, e.g. attacked next door’s postman last month.  If you do know of a previous incident, it can be very helpful, but it is not necessary.

It could be shown that the keeper had knowledge because:

  • They used a chain to restrain the dog
  • The dog was always kept inside e.g. when the postman called
  • The dog had previously attacked people in the presence of his keeper.

The keeper of a dog is the person who owns the animal or has it in his possession.  If the person who owns the dog or has it in their possession is under 16, then the keeper is the head of the household in which the under 16 year old lives.

The keeper of an animal has a duty of care to everyone else to take as much care as is reasonable to make sure that his animal does not injure someone else.

Under the Animals Act 1971, when dealing with a dog bite case it is essential that you can prove:

  • That the damage has been caused by the dog
  • Who the keeper was
  • And that the three points outlined above have been proved.

If you think that you been the victim of a dog bite and think that you may have a claim then contact a solicitor with expertise in this field to ensure that you recieve the compensation you deserve.