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Dangerous dogs: or negligent owners?

Dangerous DogsDespite a constant stream of fairly high profile cases, the number of people attacked by dangerous dogs remains worryingly high and changes in the law are slow.  Many people argue that the Government has placed too much emphasis on the after-effect of a dog attack rather than introduce preventative measures to reduce the attacks in the first place.

In 2012 an estimated 250,000 people were victims of attacks by various breeds of dog and the knock-on effect is far reaching.  In 2010 there were 1,296 people prosecuted for allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control and, apart from the cost of the criminal prosecutions and the obvious trauma of an attack on the victim and their families, the cost to the NHS for treating these patients now exceeds £ 3 million per year.

The Dangerous Dogs Act makes it a criminal offence for an owner to allow any dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place, or a private place where the dog is not permitted to be but it does not apply to attacks committed on private property where the dog is permitted to be.  This has always been a major problem when you consider that half of all dog attacks on private property occur inside the home and all too often dog owners have little incentive to act responsibly within their own properties.  Of course there are thousands of people that need access to private property as part of their work and I’m referring to postal workers, social workers and those in the emergency services as just a few examples, who have been attacked by dogs on the owner’s private property.

Claiming compensation in these circumstances is extremely difficult because so many of these attacks fall into the scenarios outlined above.  However victims should not be deterred from seeking legal advice in such circumstances because each case will be different.  Some people are the victims of a dog attack where the owner, knowing that the dog is very aggressive, allows it to run free without being on a lead in a public place.  Other people report that owners just appear oblivious of their dog’s behaviour or what triggers an attack in the first place and a small number of people state that owners deliberately encouraged the dog to carry out an attack.

Victims take no comfort from the fact that an owner is prosecuted for allowing their dog to attack someone if, following conviction in a criminal court, they learn that the defendant has no ability to pay a fine or provide compensation.  Under the civil law the same problems arise and that is whether the defendant has the ability to pay any compensation to the victim that becomes the focal point of any enquiries.

The best advice is that if you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of an attack by an out of control dog, whatever those circumstances are, then seek professional legal advice because there are a range of options that can be explored.  None of this would be necessary of course if the small minority of owners took responsibility for their dogs and prevented these incidents from happening in the first place.

Harris Fowler has a team of specialist personal injury solicitors who can offer advice to anyone who has suffered a catastrophic injury caused by the negligence of a third party.  Free and confidential legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit our website

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