The Importance of being a Responsible Dog Owner

Police are appealing for information about an incident in the Tilgate Forest area of Crawley which happened on 27 February 2015.

Georgina Clinton was riding her horse in the Golden Mile area of Tilgate Forest when a large black dog, which was not on a lead, spooked her horse and gave chase. Tragically, Mrs Clinton was thrown from the horse and suffered spinal fractures. The dog owner was present at the scene, but did not stop to assist Mrs Clinton.

This incident highlights not only the shameful behaviour of someone failing to give assistance to another, but also the importance of keeping a dog on a lead and under control, even when walking in the countryside. Not only do dogs cause injury to humans, they also attack and injure other animals, including livestock.

Dog owners need to be aware that they can be found to be liable in negligence and/or under the Animal Act 1971 if their dog causes harm to another; they could also face a criminal prosecution. A dog owner owes a duty of care to members of the public to ensure their dog does not cause others to suffer injury. In addition, under the Animals Act 1971, a dog owner can be found liable in civil law if certain criteria are satisfied.

S2(2) of the Act provides:

(2)  Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this Act, if –

a) the damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and

b) the likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances; and

c) those characteristics were known to that keeper or were at any time known to a person who at that time had charge of the animals as that keeper’s servant or, where that keeper is the head of a household, were known to another keeper of the animal who is a member of that household and under the age of 16.

Liability under the Act is not straightforward and needs to be read in conjunction with current case law. However, what is clear is that dog owners need to be alive to the fact that failure to restrain or control their dog could not only lead to harm being caused to members of the public or animals, but could also result in a claim for compensation being brought against them in the civil courts. In the absence of adequate insurance, the dog owner could face financial ruin in meeting any compensation and costs awards personally.

If you, or anyone you know, has been affected by the issues raised in this article, please contact our specialist solicitors on 0800 316 8892.