With over 200,000 Dog Bite Attack incidents occurring every year in the UK, at Shaw and Co Solicitors UK, we believe the debate over how the law should respond to Dog Bite attacks has never been more important. Last year, Parliament introduced a Bill amending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which will significantly extend criminal liability for dangerous Dog owners. Under the new law, owners may be guilty of a crime if their Dog is dangerously out of control in “any place”, including on private property. The bill will also extend the law to cover cases where assistance Dogs are attacked and will specifically allow for consideration of the owner’s character in criminal cases.
Whilst these amendments are undoubtedly necessary to tackle the most serious criminal incidents and are warmly welcomed as a sign of the government’s intention to legislate in this area, given our experience at Shaw and Co Solicitors UK of dealing with Dog Bite attack cases we consider that the Bill in its current form represents a missed opportunity for more wide-ranging reform of UK Dog Laws. In particular, there is a notable silence when it comes to the civil law, which performs the hugely important role of enabling victims of Dog Bite attacks to receive the compensation they need and deserve, but is notoriously complicated and at times ineffective.
At Shaw and Co Solicitors UK we advise our clients who are Dog Bite and Dog attack victims that they have two main claims under the existing civil law.
Firstly, a claim can be brought under the Animals Act 1971. The Act provides that the ‘keeper’ will be held responsible for any damage caused by their Dog if certain criteria are fulfilled. The Act is complicated and badly drafted and has led to a large and sometimes contradictory body of interpretative case law which is inconsistently applied by the courts.
Secondly, a client may try to show that the owner of the Dog was negligent under the general rules of tort law. The claimant must show that the Dog-owner breached a duty of care owed to the victim, causing him foreseeable harm. Bringing a claim in negligence can be even more complicated than under the Animals Act. At present there are various Court decisions which apply differing standards of care on owners.
It is therefore clear and widely acknowledged that the civil law relating to Dog Bite Attacks is in desperate need of legislative clarification.
At Shaw and Co Solicitors UK we have successfully pursued claims and recovered compensation for people injured by Dog Bite attacks and are proven experts at securing compensation for our clients. A more frequent problem we face on behalf of clients is the difficulty of enforcing these judgements, particularly when the owner is uninsured and lacks sufficient assets to pay damages.
If a claim is successfully brought against the Dog owner who owners property there is usually no issue in recovering the compensation. Mortgage obligations mean that homeowners have building and contents insurance policies which will include third party liability cover.
Also if the victim of the Dog bite or Dog attack has the benefit of home insurance cover, then in certain circumstances this insurance will pay any award of damages if it cannot be recovered from the Dog owner.
However, if there is no relevant insurance cover and the Dog owner does not have sufficient assets then the clients can be left with the judgement but no possibility of enforcing the judgement to recover their award of compensation.
This is grossly unjust and must be addressed by Parliament as soon as possible.
One possibility in this regard is compulsory public liability insurance for all Dog owners. This was suggested in a consultation by the previous government in 2010, but was never followed up. Hillary Benn, the Environment Secretary at the time, felt that such a measure would “penalize the vast majority of Dog owners”. It therefore seems that there is very limited prospect of such a wide-reaching measure being introduced in the near future. However, the government should consider other options. Perhaps a scheme similar to the Uninsured Drivers Agreement could be introduced for Dog Bite attack victims. Another option might be compulsory insurance top-ups for landlords with Dog owner tenants. However the government goes about it, something must be done to ensure victims of Dog attacks have the best possible chance of recovering the compensation that the court has awarded.
The fact that the government is talking about Dog Bite attacks and is finally legislating in this area is an encouraging sign. The Bill is currently in the report stage in the House of Lords and should become law this year. Whilst this is undoubtedly good news and will bring justice for more Dog attack victims, Parliament must build on this momentum and reform UK Dog Law in its entirety. The civil law is complicated, unclear and sometimes impossible to enforce, and ensuring victims of Dog Bite attacks are properly compensated is too important to ignore.
Shaw and Co Solicitors UK welcome the fact that the government is talking about Dog Bite attacks and that parliament is finally legislating in this area is an encouraging sign.
Shaw and Co Solicitors UK Personal Injury Solicitors are proven experts in securing compensation for Dog Bite attack victims. Call 0800 0191249 to speak to one of our personal injury team.
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