Dog bites and the Animals Act 1971

All too often we hear stories of dogs attacking people, especially children, causing life-altering injuries. But can an owner be held accountable for the actions of their dog? Is it possible to seek compensation for these often terrible injuries?

The Animals Act 1971

There are a few different ways to pursue claims for injuries sustained in a dog bite, however, most commonly an action is commenced under the Animals Act 1971. Under the Act, where damage is caused by an animal, the keeper of the animal is liable for the damage. This means that even if the attack was a complete accident, without any intention to hurt someone, the keeper may still be liable for actions of the dog.

The Test

Under s. 2 Animals Act 1971, the keeper of the animal is liable for damage if all of the following 3 limbs of the test are met:

1. 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.

This means that you, as the Claimant, would have to prove either:

a. That the damage was likely to be caused by the animal unless it was restrained, (i.e. is this normal/expected behaviour of that breed?); or

b. That the damage was likely to be severe. This is dependent on the breed, for example the Court has held that a bite from an Alsatian is likely to be severe; and

2. 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, e.g. the particular dog was poorly trained and aggressive as a result; and

3. Those characteristics were known to that keeper or the person in charge of the dog at the time. Did the owner know his/her dog was aggressive? Should he have taken steps to avoid circumstances where that aggression might cause problems?

Are there any defences?

Yes – if the keeper can prove one of the following he will not be liable for the injuries:

1. The damage was caused because of the person who suffered the injury – e.g. the victim had wound the dog up by hitting it;

2. The claimant voluntarily accepted the risk of injury – e.g the victim put himself in harm’s way by putting his hand in the dog’s mouth or some other irresponsible act; or

3.  The claimant was injured whilst trespassing and the dog was, either:

a. Not there for protection of persons or property, or

b. If it was there for the defence of persons or property, then it was not unreasonable to use the dog as protection– e.g. a security dog at a scrap yard.

If you or someone you know has been attacked by a dog, or suffered personal injury caused by another animal, please contact our specialist solicitors on 01924 692125.

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