Dog biting somebody

Does your dog bite?

Caron Whitfield, head of marketing and distribution at the Apio Group answers the question of whether the personal insurance policy covers the policyholder if their dog bites somebody.

Your dog biting someone can have serious emotional and legal repercussions and we are often asked if a personal insurance policy covers the policyholder if their dog bites somebody. Even a so-called non-aggressive dog can have a bad moment and become reactive and bite someone. 

Last year, a Supreme Court of Appeal judgement was handed down involving a gardener and refuse collector who was attacked, without warning or reason, by three dogs on the street. His injuries were serious and resulted in him losing his left arm. He subsequently instituted a claim against the owners of the dogs for R2.4 million for damages. The owners of the dogs denied liability as they were not at home at the time and that the dogs were locked inside their secured premises. The appeal was dismissed and the owner had to compensate the victim for injuries. (You can read the full ruling on the link – http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZASCA/2020/100.html)

Dog biting somebody

The law

The law says that If a dog bites a person then the owner of the dog is liable and there is also no need for the claimant to prove fault, negligence or intention.

However, there are extenuating circumstances where a dog’s owner may be found not liable for any injuries caused. These include:

  • the victim provoked the dog to attack by teasing or taunting it;
  • the dog acted “contrary to its nature”; hence the owner could not have predicted the attack or avoided it;
  • the victim was warned that the dog was dangerous but did not listen;
  • the victim was illegally on the dog owner’s premises when the attack occurred.

If you are bitten

If a dog does attack and causes injuries, get proper medical attention. Use clean water to rinse the wounds and try to stop the bleeding with a clean towel or item of clothing. Keep the limb elevated. Most importantly, keep calm. 

You will need to collect the following information:

  • Determine the breed of the dog. It is a good idea to get information about their history – has this happened before;
  • Get the contact details of the owner. You will need their name, address, contact details and ID number;
  • You will need the same information for any witnesses as well as a detailed description of what they saw;
  • Take photographs of bite marks, the dog, and the place where you were bitten. Include your clothes, open gates and broken fencing and anything that you believe is relevant to the situation;
  • Ask your doctor for copies of your medical report detailing the severity of the injuries and keep any accounts and payments made by yourself or your medical aid;
  • Make a report of the attack to the police so that you are given a case number that can then be used in your claim. Should you sue the owner for damages such as injury, pain, damage to property, future medical expenses, disability, disfigurement, and nervous shock.

Be a responsible dog owner

  • Make sure that your dog is securely confined to your property. E.g. if your dog is a jumper, make sure that your walls are high enough that they can’t get over;
  • When you go for a walk, keep your dog on a leash;
  • If you have a dog breed that may be aggressive and could cause substantial damage, put up warning signs on your premises. It’s also advisable to warn your guests of the risk if they come on to your premises;
  • Supervise children when they are around your dogs. Children do not understand the dangers so teach them not to touch dogs without asking the owner first;
  • If your dogs are in the care of someone else, make sure that they are responsible and know how to deal with emergencies.

Lastly, check with your broker that your insurance policy includes Personal Liability to cover any potential, successful claims. This will act as a safeguard in the unfortunate event that an accident does happen. Email your Apio consultant at info@apio.co.za for more.