In the UK almost 1 in every 2 households owns a pet. Of this figure 8 million of these pets are dogs. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs research indicated that in 2008/9 there were over 5,000 hospital admissions from person bitten or struck by a dog costing the National Health Service £3.3 million pounds.
Recourse is provided primarily by the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the Animals Act 1971 but just how effective are these pieces of legislation in compensating persons who have been attacked by a dog?
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 makes it a criminal offence to own, breed or sell dogs of a certain type. Section 3 of the Act significantly increases its ambit by making it an offence where a dog of any type or breed is dangerously out of control in a public place. A person found guilty under section 3 may face a 6 month imprisonment, a fine of £5,000.00 or both. Although this provides retributive justice reparation is not made to the victim of an attack.
Courts are granted civil powers under the Dogs Act of 1871 whereby they can impose restrictions or controls on any dog it considers to be dangerous in both public and private cases. The act is still used today due to any person being able to make a complaint under the Act to a magistrates’ Court and only the civil standard of proof applies. Admitted as evidence as in line with the Civil Evidence act 1968 during any other civil proceedings.
For this reason the Claimant is forced to seek recourse under the Animals Act 1971, the occupiers’ liability Act 1957 or in common law principles of negligence.
The Animals Act is the most frequently and successful y utilised piece of legislation in this respect. However it is not without its weaknesses. It will often be extremely difficult to prove the three requisite conditions for the act to apply. The most difficult of these is to prove the dog had certain characteristics or a propensity of violence. This can be proved or supported by evidence from a veterinarian of the particular dog.
The hurdles created by the Animals Act will often prove insurmountable to most Claimants. However even if these difficulties are overcome the death knell for most cases where persons have been injured by dogs is the fact that there is no third part liability insurance in place to protect the Claimant.
Therefore, should insurance be compulsory for all dog owners? The matter was recently considered by DEFRA and put to consultation. There are obvious benefits to compulsory insurance in that persons injured would have more chance of receiving compensation due to the cover provided. However the idea is not favoured by the RSPCA who instead prefer a licensing requirement of dog owners and the government have identified that dog bite injuries tend to be as a result of the owners actions or omissions rather than the fault of the dog itself.
There also concerns as to how the system would be monitored and enforced. It would place a huge pressure on the enforcement agency be those the police or counsels and a database would need to be maintained of all dogs at a considerable cost and the scheme has seemed to be unpopular with responsible dog owners
There is ample evidence that dog owners would not insure their dogs. For example under the Dangerous Dogs Act those dogs placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs are required to be insured against all third parties. Even with this statutory measure in place in 2009 124 dogs on the register had not had their insurance renewed.
Of course Claimant’s have recourse to the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme if all avenues fail but if the requirements of the application process are not fulfilled a Claimant seems to have exhausted all avenues available to them.
It is for this reason it has become necessary for Parliament to seriously reconsider the law governing compensation for Claimant’s injured from dog owners.