Dog bite cases that could shock SA dog owners — or their bank accounts
It’s fair to say that South Africa is a relatively dog-friendly country, but dog bites do happen naturally. Many South African households keep dogs as pets or even consider them part of the family, increasing the chance of a dog bite incident occurring, whether within the family or among the public. But what are the legal repercussions when this happens?
According to BusinessTech, when dog bite claims are made in South Africa, compensation may include “payment of past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings and general damages for pain and suffering”, as the says specialist law firm DSC Attorneys.
Dog attacks or bites that result in serious injury are quite common in South Africa, as many residents own large breeds of dogs to protect properties from potential intruders.
“In South Africa, a dog attack can give rise to a claim on the basis of the ‘action of poverty’, against the owner of the dog. With this type of claim, the owner’s liability does not depend on actual negligence or intent to harm,” the law firm states.
The actio of paupery is an age-old legal principle dating back to Roman law which states that liability normally rests with the owner of a domestic animal when that animal has caused damage.
DSC’s lawyers explained that for this claim to succeed, four criteria must be established:
- The defendant (the person you are claiming against) owns the dog;
- The dog is a domestic animal;
- The dog acted out of nature (which, it is assumed, does not imply wanting to attack people); and
- The dog has caused harm to the person complaining.
Successful claims of dog bites or attacks can result in millions of rands, as recent cases have shown. DSC Attorneys described some cases that may be of interest to dog owners:
Mohammed Essack of Howick West is currently seeking R1.4 million in damages after he was attacked by a neighbour’s dog in 2021. The case shows the dog allegedly entered his property and attacked him, which which resulted in his hospitalization. The case went to court in Pietermaritzburg in May 2021 and was adjourned to a date to be agreed.
In a matter of 2020, Cloete versus Van Meyeren, a man was seriously injured after being attacked by three dogs on the public highway. The owners of the dogs, and the defendant in the case, argued that normally his dogs are safe on his property, but in this particular incident the door was left unlocked by an intruder. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and the court ruling provides that “the owner of a dog who attacks a person who was lawfully in the place where he was injured, and who neither provoked the attack nor by his negligence has contributed to his own damage, is bound, in his capacity as owner, to repair the resulting damage”. The plaintiff in this case claimed R2,341,000 in damages.
In another case that arose in 2020, a R4 million liability insurance claim was settled out of court after a victim of a dog attack lost an arm from the elbow down.
So how is compensation determined in dog bite claims in South Africa?
Dog bite claims can be complex. A claim is more likely to succeed if there is evidence that the dog’s owner was negligent, even if negligence is not a prerequisite for a successful claim. Examples of neglect are failing to secure the dog safely on their property, or more commonly, allowing a dog to wander off-leash in public areas.
But the behavior of the person who was attacked by the dog could also influence the claim. For example, factors considered are whether the claimant illegally entered the property of the dog’s owner or provoked the dog.
In some circumstances, the owner could still be held liable even if a dog attack or bite had taken place on their private property.
Other factors that will likely affect compensation in a dog bite claim are medical costs associated with the injuries, loss of income due to the injuries, tthe severity and likely long-term consequences of the injuries sustained, as well as tthe applicant’s age.
Read also :
Fierce Dog Attacks 7-Month-Old Pitbull Puppy