When Can You Claim Damages for a Dog Bite?

If you’re injured as the result of a dog attack in South Africa, you may be able to sue the owner of the dog for damages. For example, you can claim hospital and other medical expenses, as well as general damages for shock, pain and suffering.

No need to prove negligence

Provided you have appropriate legal assistance, claiming damages for injury due to a dog attack is a comparatively straightforward process. For most other types of personal injury claims, you have to prove that the party you’re making a claim against acted in a way that was negligent, and that this resulted in your injury. In the case of a dog attack, this isn’t a requirement.

angry dog

Image by monogrant

In legal terms, dog owners are subject to the action known as “actio de pauperie.” What this means is that if a dog attacks and injures you, the owner may be held liable for paying you compensation – without your having to prove that the owner was negligent or that the dog was under the owner’s control when you were bitten. This is assuming that you acted in a reasonable manner and were entitled to be in the area where you were attacked.

In the words of presiding judge C. J. Innes in the 1927 case of O‘Callaghan vs. Chaplin, “By our law, the owner of a dog that attacks a person who was lawfully at the place where he was injured, and who neither provoked the attack nor by his negligence contributed to his own injury, is liable, as owner, to make good the resulting damage.”

Circumstances affecting a claim

A claim against a dog owner may be rejected if the owner can verify that:

  • the dog was provoked to attack, for example by someone hurting the animal
  • the victim wasn’t entitled to be on the property where the attack occurred
  • the victim was warned of the inherent danger but chose to interact with the animal anyway
  • the animal didn’t behave in a way “contrary to its nature”, meaning that the attack should reasonably have been expected and avoided by the victim.

Claiming negligence

Even with one or more of the circumstances listed above, a dog owner may still be held liable for damages if the defendant can prove that the owner’s behaviour was negligent. For example, if you’re attacked by a dog, the dog owner may be found negligent if he or she didn’t warn you that the dog was aggressive and the animal had previously attacked someone else on the property.

Consult a personal injury law firm

If you’re the victim of a dog attack, the best way to ensure a successful claim for damages is to secure the services of an experienced personal injury lawyer. Attorneys specialising in dog bite cases, can help you gather the evidence and navigate the legalities involved in proving a case.

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