Dog owners are responsible for the actions and behaviours of their pets. If a dog bites or injures another person, the owner could face a public liability injury claim.
Given that people often have an emotional attachment to their animals, the nature of these claims can get a little frenzied. First things first following a dog bite or attack, you should always seek medical attention if your injuries are severe enough that they may warrant stitches or other professional care. After that, you must decide if you wish to pursue an injury claim against the dog owner.
Here, we will walk through everything you need to know about compensation claims for dog attacks, from classifying a dog bite to compensation eligibility, filing deadlines and seeking legal advice.
Understanding the six levels of dog bites
The most common way to measure the severity of a dog bite or attack is by using something called the Dunbar scale, which has six levels. Here is a general overview of the stages, from one through six, with a brief description of each level:
Action and Result
Dog growls, lunges or snarls but no teeth touch skin. Mostly intimidation and/or threatening behaviour.
Teeth touch skin but there is no puncture. Minor surface abrasions, lacerations or minor bruising. May also include scratches from paws or nails.
Punctures one to three holes in a single bite. Victim not shaken side to side. Bruising is evident.
Multiple level 3 bites.
Two to four holes from a single bite, typically contact or punctures from more than canines (teeth) and considerable bruising.
Multiple bites at Level 4 or above. A concerted, repeated attack causing severe injury.
Death as a result of a bite or attack.
This scale, published by veterinarian, animal behaviourist and writer Dr. Ian Dunbar, is often referenced when dealing with dog bite claims. Although there are variations of it, the classifications seen here are fairly common throughout different versions.
In short, the scale ranges from growl or signs of aggression (level one) all the way to death as a result of a dog attack (level 6).
Dog attacks can lead to public liability injury claims
Unfortunately, attacks can and do happen. From the beginning of April until the end of June 2022 alone, 1,150 attacks were reported in New South Wales, with 48 of them resulting in hospitalisation.
In a recent incident, a two-year-old boy was attacked by a Bull Arab on the New South Wales South Coast. The child suffered injuries to a number of areas including, head, chest, back and legs.
Melissa Lyons, the boy’s mother, spoke to the South Coast Register and said that he was being dragged around by the dog.
“It was horrible,” she said. “It was crazy. I’m just glad I was there and moved so quickly. If I didn’t get those jaws apart I don’t know.”
A victim of a dog attack can sue for negligence if the owner failed to:
- Reasonably restrain the dog.
- Maintain adequate control of the dog.
- Construct satisfactory fencing.
- Use a lead, collar or muzzle.
- Exercise appropriate care when the dog was in public spaces.
- Have any regard for the safety of the public.
This means that an owner has the responsibility to ensure that a dog is securely confined on their premises or is governed when in a public space. In other words, a dog must not be able to get under or over a fence, or have access to public areas without supervision.
Understanding who is at fault after a dog attack
Dog owners are almost always held liable for the actions of their pets. This is the case whether they attack a person or even another animal. But, your level of involvement in the case does matter and may have an effect on the amount of compensation you’re entitled to.
As per division two, section 25 under the Companion Animals Act 1998 No 87, the owner of a dog is liable in damages in respect of:
- Bodily injury to a person caused by the dog wounding or attacking that person.
- Damage to the personal property of a person (including clothing) caused by the dog in the course of attacking that person.
“Who is at fault?” is still a valid question here, so take the time to consider all possible outcomes. According to the same section of the Companion Animals Act 1998 No 87, an owner may not be liable for damages if:
- An attack by a dog occurred on any property or vehicle of which the owner of the dog is an occupier or on which the dog is ordinarily kept, but only if the person attacked was not lawfully on the property or vehicle and the dog was not a dangerous dog, menacing dog or restricted dog at the time of the attack.
- An attack by a dog that is in immediate response to, and is wholly induced by, intentional provocation of the dog by a person other than the owner of the dog or the owner’s employees or agents.
In other words, if you are accused of trespassing onto a property where the dog was located, or provoking the dog in any way which resulted in the attack, the owner of the dog may not be held liable. If this is the case, that person may pay reduced compensation, if any at all.
In any case, it’s best to contact a personal injury lawyer to talk through your best course of action following a dog attack. There are a lot of variables to consider when it comes to a dog bite personal injury claim. At Gerard Malouf and Partners, we have all the expertise required to make your dog bite claims process as smooth as possible.
What damages are you eligible for after a dog bite or attack?
If a victim seeks a public liability injury claim through a compensation lawyer, the owner may be forced to pay for any economic loss that the victim sustained as well as damages for any pain or suffering. Here are some examples of economic and non-economic loss:
Economic loss equates to things like lost wages or affected earning capacity, medical expenses and replacement of any damaged property (clothing included). On the other hand, non-economic damages are things like pain and suffering, anguish or a damaged reputation.
To maximise your compensation amount, seeking legal counsel from a personal injury lawyer is your best course of action.
Insurance for dog owners
Animals can be unpredictable. As much as we would like to imagine our pets as unproblematic, the possibility of them causing harm to another person is always there. Thus, making sure that you have insurance that covers the action of your pet in a worst case scenario is important.
With proper insurance, you may be fully covered via third party liability. This can help dog owners cover the cost of owed damages, illness, injury or death caused by their pet. Since dog bite claims can venture well into six figures, insurance is always a smart option and can be a lifeline if your pet does happen to lose control or acts unexpectedly out of your presence.
The legal process for a dog bite compensation claim
Most personal injury claims are held to strict timelines, including dog bites and attacks. Because of that, you only have a limited amount of time to lodge a claim. Anything initiated after the cut off may be no longer eligible for compensation, or may be subject to a significant reduction in your compensation amount.
You have about three years from the date of the attack to initiate and file a claim. However, police should be notified immediately after an attack. This is so they can track down the dog and its owner and carry out their jobs accordingly.
For people who have suffered a severe dog bite injury, a three year window to file allows adequate time to recover before starting the legal process. However, it’s always best practice to file your dog bite claim as soon as possible.
Gerard Malouf and Partners offer free, no obligation legal advice. We’re happy to advise you on your dog bite case and recommend your best course of action. After getting in touch with us, should you choose to move forward, we’ll get started lodging all the initial documentation and start building a strong case.
If you would like to know more about seeking compensation following a dog bite or attack, contact a representative of Gerard Malouf and Partners today. Ask about our no win no fee guarantee to ensure money is not an obstacle to your claim. Contact us on our website or give us a call at 1800 004 878.