Claims for Dog Bites and Dog Attacks

There appears to be a growing number of incidents involving dogs or other pets or animals causing damage to property in Queensland.

It is important to remember that a pet is considered, at law, to be a persons property.  So if a dog were to attack your dog causing damage or injury, then you may have a claim against the dog owner for any financial loss suffered by you.

That is usually by way of vet bills, re-training or potentially a replacement dog.

When is an owner liable?

Other States in Australia have strict liability if an owner’s dog attacks another and causes damage, that is, the owner is always responsible, without question.

However, in Queensland, we have a different legal system and it is more difficult to prove that a dog owner is responsible.  In general there are 3 instances where the owner is responsible in Queensland:

  1. The dog itself was already registered by the local Council as dangerous or menacing.
  2. The owner of the dog was aware that the dog had previously attacked another dog or damaged property such that it had a propensity to do so.
  3. The owner was negligent in some way that made it reasonably foreseeable that the dog would bite, attack or damage property.

The first 2 instances above relate to a principle in common law that still applies in Queensland, known as scienter.  In its basic form, it means that injuries or damage caused by an animal that is known to be dangerous are the responsibility of the owner, regardless of how it occurred.

Most domestic pets, including dogs, do not fall within the common law category as ‘dangerous by nature’, but a venomous snake or other exotic animals might be.  A particular domestic dog may be included within the ‘dangerous by nature’ category if you can prove that the owner knew (or ought to have known) that their otherwise tame dog, had an aggressive nature or history.

The third instance above is the most common way an owner of a dog becomes liable for a bog bite or dog attack, which is through a common law claim in negligence.  To successfully make a claim you will need to prove that the dog’s owner failed to take proper and reasonable steps to prevent the bite, attack or damage property.

That isn’t always easy but can be done.  Perhaps the owner failed to keep the dog restrained on a lead in a area where they ought to have been.  Perhaps the owner failed to maintain an adequate enclosure at their home to prevent escape.  Perhaps the owner allowed the dog to enter your premises or business when it was forbidden.

What to do if a dog causes damage?

It can be a traumatic experience when your dog is involved in a dog fight and is injured.  It will obviously be important to get them to the vet straight away.  However, here are some tips on what to do to protect your rights against the owner of the dog:

  • Contact Details – It’s unlikely you’ll know the owner, even if you visit the same dog park, you might only know their first name.  So get their full name and some form of contact details, ideally an address, phone number and email.
  • Dog Details – The dog involved should have an identification tag on its collar, take a note of the number so you can provide it to the local Council to report the dog attack.
  • Witness Details – You may need witnesses to come forward and explain what they saw if the owner denies liability.  Get any witnesses to give you their contact details so you have them ready as you might not find them again.
  • Photographs – Take photographs of the injuries, damage, dogs involved, the area the attack took place and any signs that relate to dog control in that spot (dog park, off-leash area, on-leash area, etc).
  • Vet Bills –  Make sure you keep good records of the vet bills, vet reports etc to be produced later, if needed.

Once you know the extent of the damage caused you’ll be in a position to start thinking about making a claim.  Your first thought should be about any insurance policies that might cover the damage.  Your own pet insurance may cover some of the expense.  If the damage is to your home, business, car or other personal belongings then check your home/business/car insurance policies.

Even if you are covered by insurance for a portion of the expenses, you can still make a claim against the dog owner for the balance remaining and any excess you had to pay.

How can we help?

We assist people make, or defend claims that a dog (or other animal) has caused damage to another’s property.

Feel free to call us or make an appointment to talk about the dog attack and find out why you might want to choose us to help you make a claim.

DISCLAIMER: The above article was written at a specific point in time in the past and is provided as general guidance only. It is not intended to be specific legal advice to any person’s particular circumstances who may be reading it. We do not recommend you use this article as a replacement for obtaining proper legal advice on your issue and encourage anyone reading the article to obtain legal advice to ensure the above information and guidance remains valid and suits your particular circumstance. In our experience, there is no ‘one size fits all’ to legal problems!