Due to circumstances beyond your control your dog bites someone. There is blood, an injury, and a shocked and angry victim. Luckily it is a small wound, but before you can mouth an apology, the traumatised person storms off with the words: “You’ll pay for this; see you in court!”
Are you liable for the damage caused by your dog?
Well, you could be, depending on the circumstances. Damages caused by a pet can be claimed from the owner through the Actio de Pauperie. You will be liable for damages if the complainant is successful in proving:
- that you were the owner of the animal at the time of infliction of the injury;
- that the animal is domesticated;
- that the animal acted contrary to the nature of a domesticated animal; and
- that the conduct of the animal caused the plaintiff’s damage.
How can you defend your dog?
The onus will be on you, as owner of the dog, to prove a valid defence. You will not be liable for the complainant’s damages if you can successfully prove:
- that your poor dog was provoked by the culpable conduct of the complainant;
- that someone else was in charge of your dog when the injury was inflicted, in other words a third party had control over the animal and the damage occurred due to that person’s negligence;
- the unlawful presence of the plaintiff on the premises, in other words that the injured person had no legal right to be there;
- that the plaintiff knew of the risk and voluntarily accepted the risk; and
- that the owner is not responsible for damages caused by his animal in terms of an existing indemnity agreement between the parties.
The circumstances and actions of the injured person will determine what happens. If someone came onto your property uninvited and got attacked by your dog, then it’s not your fault. However, if you were walking your dog in the park and they randomly attacked someone, without being provoked, then you are liable.
Owning a dog can be a very rewarding experience and a boundless source of unconditional love, but at the same time it also brings great responsibility. If you own a dog, you also have a responsibility to prevent it from causing harm to anyone or their property.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).