Strict Liability for dog bite claims-the answer to the Animals Act ?

  • August 13, 2012
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The State of Maryland in the US of A are getting close to what they see as the solution for the victims of dogbites; they are bringing in what could be described as a strict liability approach. Basically this means that if your dog bites someone then that it is; you are liable for the injuries and losses that the injured party sustains as a result of the attack. There is no need to show that the animal had a tendency to bite or was of the kind of species that one would expect to be a bite risk.

Maybe we can learn something from this, in the UK all dog bite actions are under the remit and wording of the Animals Act 1971 and, I think I do the act no disservice, when I say that it is regarded as one of the most badly drafted Acts currently on the statute books.

Section 2(2) of the Act says ”Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this Act, if

  • (a) the damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and
  • (b) the likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances; and
  • (c) those characteristics were known to that keeper ”

As you can see it is not something you would want to explain to anyone after a few pints. Basically, if the animal is a non-dangerous species and dogs, in the main, fall into this category then you need to show that it would be likely that the animal would cause injury and that this was a result of the animal having personality traits that other dogs of the same species don’t have unless there are particular surrounding circumstance (such as guarding pups/property) and the owner knew about these personality traits. Not really much clearer is it ?

How would strict liability apply?

Basically all owners would be responsible for the actions of their dogs regardless of species and/or prior knowledge of the dogs behavioural trait. There may be cries that would be unfair and would drive up insurance policies maybe but a ‘no claims bonus’ scheme could apply so if your animal proved they were safe then the policy would drop and it would certainly come to the aid of those who are bitten and then cannot claim because it was a first-time bite from a non-dangerous animal in ordinary circumstances.

At the moment the Animals Act leaves is badly phrased and open to various interpretations; the use of strict liability would remove such ambiguity and replace it with a solid message to the nation’s dog-owners. If it bites someone you pay someone.


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