With Blood On It's Mouth - Are You Always Liable As A Pet Owner | Legal Articles


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With Blood On It's Mouth - Are You Always Liable As A Pet Owner

For those with pets, one would instantly get a rush of blood to the head seeing their pet loitering in the yard with blood on its mouth. This can mean two things, either the pet got injured or it is the one that inflicted the injury. Both scenarios bring shivers through the spine, but it is the latter that may bring more reason to worry. Am I liable, would be the instant question? Liability in such scenarios – does it automatically kick in?

The short answer is, NO. Liability arising out of injuries caused by a pet needs to be proven like other claims. There are hurdles (or defences) that must be cleared first before liability is proven, up against the owner of the pet who might be raising defences to escape liability.

Firstly, in a situation where the injured party was unlawfully in the place where he was attacked by the pet, liability may not arise in such situation. An obvious example of this scenario is whereby a thief breaks into a yard and is attacked by the home owner’s dogs, there cannot be liability on the part of the home owner as the thief was not supposed to be in the yard in the first place, at least without permission.

The second scenario is where, a third party negligently or recklessly conducts themselves in a manner that causes another party to suffer injuries from a pet. In this case, the liability will accrue to the third party and not to the owner of the pet. The case of Lever v Purdy (3) SA 17 (A) demonstrates this scenario. In this case the third party who was entrusted to take care of a dog while the owner went on a trip, did not lock up the dog before the claimant arrived, resulting in the dog attacking the claimant. The Court held that the third party had been negligent and ought to shoulder liability.

Where a pet is provoked and it acts in response to such provocation by attacking the claimant, the claimant will likely not succeed with this claim. Hypothetically speaking, had the provocation not been done, the pet would probably not have attacked the claimant.


In summary of the principles above with regard to liability arising out of injuries caused by a pet attack, the owner of the pet, may escape liability under the following instances:


  1. The claimant was not lawfully in that place;
  2. The claimant or another third party provoked the pet and under such provocation, the pet acted in response to such provocation;
  3. The injury of the claimant was caused by the conduct of a third party under the circumstances.



At Van Deventer and Van Deventer Incorporated we assist in general litigation on matters such as the above, amongst a host of other areas of law. Our legal practitioners are seasoned, professional and astute in the work they handle.

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