Dave Berry | Associate

The Dog Days are over?

It is vital for pet owners and the public alike to be aware of the extent to which dog owners may well be liable for injury and harm caused to others by their pets.

Section 1(3) of the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 establishes that strict liability applies for an animal that by virtue of its physical attributes or habits is likely to injure people. The Act goes on to state in Section 1(3) (a) that dogs are deemed in law to be likely to injure people by either biting or savaging.

Taken together this means that if you are bitten by a dog, then strict liability on the part of the owner will apply.

The situation becomes more complicated where a dog causes injury in a manner other than by “biting or savaging”, for example, if you were knocked over by an over excited dog.

In Welsh v Brady [2009] CSIH 60, the Pursuer was walking her dog in a field commonly used by dog walkers. She was struck by a black Labrador which was running off the lead. As a result of being struck by the Labrador, the Pursuer fell and suffered injury. In this case, it was held that Section 1 of the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 did not apply. The case required dealt with by way of common law negligence on the part of the owner. It was held that the likelihood of injury, to the Pursuer, by a dog running free, in that particular case was not significant enough to impose a duty upon the Defender to prevent it. The possibility of injury to the Pursuer in an open field with a number of dogs running off the lead was so remote as to fail to establish a duty of care on the part of the Defender to ensure his dog was on a lead.

The case of Sandison v Coope [2016] SCPER 33 involved the Pursuer cycling on a quiet country road. The Defender had parked his van in a lay-by immediately following a blind bend on the road, on the left. The Defender was going fishing with friends. The Defender had brought his dog. After arriving at the locus, the Defender let his dog out from the van to explore off the lead. The dog crossed to the opposite side of the road. The Pursuer rounded the blind bend immediately prior to where the Defender was positioned. The Defender was unaware of the Pursuer and the Pursuer was unaware of the Defender, or his dog. The Defender called his dog. His dog was trained to respond to his command and therefore immediately left its position and attempted to cross the road back to the Defender. The dog ran in front of the Pursuer’s bike. The Pursuer was unable to avoid the dog striking it, resulting in her coming off the bike to her injury. It was not suggested that the nature of the Defender’s dog had any bearing on the circumstances giving rise to the collision. The dog was simply responding to the Defender’s command. The case required dealt with by way of common law negligence on the part of the Defender. Did the Defender, in all the circumstances, take reasonable care for the safety of other road users, such as the Pursuer, in allowing his dog to roam unfettered on a public road and in particular, failing to ensure that the road was clear prior to calling the dog to him. The previous case of Welsh v Brady was referred to at length. It was noted that in that case, it was not considered reasonable for the Defender when giving attention to the safety of the Pursuer, to keep his dog on a lead. However, each case is fact specific. The present case was distinguished from Welsh v Brady on the facts. The harmful event occurred not in an open field but rather a public road. The Defender was unaware of the Pursuer’s presence on the road. There was good reason for the Defender to foresee that by allowing his dog to run off the lead or be otherwise unrestrained on a public road may well result in injury being caused. He should have been aware of the possibility of other road users in the vicinity of the blind corner. However, the Defender made no attempt to check the road was clear before he called his dog to him in the full knowledge that the dog would require to cross the public road to reach him. The Defender was found to be negligent for the actions of his dog.

In conclusion, where a dog causes injury by biting or savaging, strict liability applies. In other circumstances, the common law will apply and it will be for the Pursuer to prove negligence on the part of the owner for their dog’s actions. Whether there is negligence will depend on the particular circumstances of the case.

If you are a dog owner, this brings into sharp focus how important it is to be properly insured for the actions of your dog, otherwise, you may find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being personally liable to compensate for injuries caused by your dog.

If you have suffered injury as a result of a dog or any other animal, please contact us online by clicking here or speak to a member of our specialist team on 0333 222 1855.

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Personal Injury Team

“It may be something of a cliché but I enjoy helping my clients and guiding them through what can often be the daunting prospect of being involved in a personal injury court action, whilst also ensuring I obtain the best possible result for them.”

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