When liability bites

England is a nation of dog lovers, but recently, the Haverhill Echo reported that dog incidents are an increasing problem in Haverhill. So, what is the law relating to dog ownership and what remedies can you take if you or your dog are a victim of a dog bite incident?

It is a criminal offence to let a dog be dangerously out of control. A dog is considered dangerously out of control if it injures someone or threatens to injure. It is also dangerously out of control if it attacks and injures another animal.

If you are bitten by a dog, we would recommend that you identify the owner of the dog and report the matter to the Police. If you have suffered an injury as a result of a dog attack you may want to consider pursuing a claim for compensation for your personal injury and losses. This can be made with reference to The Animals Act 1971 and/or a claim in Negligence.

Animals Act 1971

The Animals Act 1971 sets out the circumstances in which the dog’s “keeper” can be held responsible for the actions of their dog. Over the years, the Act has been interpreted in different ways, but one of the most important and controversial interpretations is that the Animals Act imposes “strict liability” on the keeper of a dog for its’ actions.

This means that the Act can hold someone responsible for an injury caused by their dog regardless of whether or not they themselves are at fault. The test which needs to be satisfied is whether the damage caused by a dog is attributed to a characteristic of the dog which was known to the keeper.

The Act however does offer defences for the keeper to the strict liability finding. If for example the person injured was either totally or partially at fault for what happened, or if they voluntarily accept the risk of injury.

Allegations of Negligence

All owners owe a duty of care to others in respect of the behaviour of their dog. If owners do not do all they should in respect to the control of their dogs, they will have breached that duty of care and may be held responsible for any losses suffered as a result of this negligence.

Dog owners would be well advised to have insurance to protect against claims in respect of their dogs behaviour. Knowledge again plays a part, for a dog owner to be held negligent it would have to be evidenced that they knew or ought reasonably to have known that the incident could happen.

Man’s best friend is worth the extra vigilance.


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