Dog Bite Claims in South Africa – Know Your Rights | Legal Articles


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Dog Bite Claims in South Africa – Know Your Rights

Dog bites and attacks are on the rise and with the recent call to ban pit bull type dogs in South Africa, many dog owners are surrendering their pets to the SPCA in an effort to avoid becoming another statistic.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of fatal dog attacks in the world and although it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this, experts are saying it’s mainly due to irresponsible ownership of dogs who have previously shown signs of human and animal aggression, or have the potential to develop such aggression without warning.

Additionally, the lack of legal recourse against owners of a dog who has bitten someone adds to the increasing number of dog attacks in South Africa. According to the spokesperson of the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa, Lins Rautenbach, attacks and maulings are directly proportionate to the lack of successful prosecution and sentencing of people who own dogs who have attacked someone.

The question remains, can you sue someone for a dog bite or attack, and under what circumstances will such a claim be successful?

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Can You Sue Someone for a Dog Bite?

The short answer is yes, you can. According to South African law, dog owners are subject to the action known as “actio de pauperie” which places strict liability on the dog owner, whether negligence on the owner’s behalf can be proven or not. Legally, a dog owner is liable to pay for compensation if their dog bites or attacks anyone.

However, there are mitigating factors in dog bite claims in South Africa, meaning that certain conditions may exist which may exonerate a dog owner of liability.

Legal Action Against Dog Owner

In order for a claimant (the person laying a claim against someone else) to be successful with actio de pauperie, the following requirements must be met:

  • The claimant is claiming damages from the owner of the animal, and not the person who was handling the dog at the time
  • The animal in question must be a domesticated animal
  • The animal must have acted “against its nature”. In other words, it is assumed that the nature of the animal is that it does not willingly want to hurt someone but does so in response to an aggravating circumstance such as being mistreated or provoked by the person who was attacked
  • The claimant is only able to claim against the owner if their presence at the place where the attack took place was lawful. Simply put, a criminal intruder who is attacked by a dog may not claim against the owner, but a postman or known visitor is permitted to claim for damages caused by the attack

What Can You Claim for When a Dog Attacks You?

Dog bite and attack victims can claim for the following:

Past and Future Medical Expenses

This includes all surgical and non-surgical, care, and medication needed to treat your injuries.

Past and Future Loss of Earnings

Actual past loss of income due to unpaid sick leave and time taken off work due to recovery. In addition, loss of employment or future earning potential as a direct result of injuries sustained in the attack.

General Damages

Dog attacks are traumatizing events which can lead to a number of secondary issues such as post traumatic stress disorder, pain and suffering, disability, emotional shock, and loss of amenities of life (your ability to engage in life in the same way as you did before the attack).

When Can You Claim?

According to South African law, you have a period of three years from the date of the attack to lay a claim against an owner of a dog who attacked you.

How to Claim Compensation for a Dog Bite

Evidence is the most important thing when laying a personal injury charge against a dog owner. The following are details that will help you win your case:

  • The name, contact details, and address of the owner
  • Names and contact details of any witnesses to the attack
  • Photos of your injuries, the dog, and the scene where the incident took place
  • Copies of all medical reports and expenses related to the incident
  • A case number obtained from the police station in the area where the incident took place

Avoiding Dog Bite Claims in South Africa

Damages caused by dog attacks can amount to millions of rands. For this reason, and for the purpose of not causing harm to anyone, owners must take responsibility for their dogs and do everything they can to prevent such a tragic incident from happening.

As an owner of a dog, you have the responsibility to:

  • Always keep your dog securely on your property, with fences or walls that can effectively keep your dog inside the boundaries of your property at all times
  • Ensure that your family knows the importance of keeping gates closed and locked at all times, making it impossible for the dog to escape
  • If your dog is aggressive, or has the potential to be aggressive, make sure that you have the necessary warning signs up for the public to see
  • Do not leave children unattended with your dog
  • Do not leave visitors or staff unattended with your dog
  • Always keep your dog on leash when walking them out in public areas
  • If your dog has shown signs of aggression towards people or other animals, make sure they are wearing a good quality muzzle when they are in public
  • Educate your children on how to treat your dog – do not allow them to sit on the dog, push them around, pull their tails or hair, or to behave erratically around the animal
  • Invest in personal liability insurance if you are afraid that your dog is capable of hurting someone
  • If you are struggling to manage your dog and live fearfully in their presence, do the responsible thing, and surrender them to a registered and reputable rescue organization
  • Never give your dog away to someone or try to rehome them without the assistance of an organization
  • Before adopting or buying a dog, do extensive research into the breed and make sure you know what the dog was bred for, what their genetic characteristics are, and what your responsibilities as the owner are
  • Make sure to take your dog to training and socialization classes as soon as you get them and be sure to continue these efforts throughout the dog’s life
  • Always and without failure, sterilize your dog

Van Deventer & Van Deventer Incorporated – Personal Injury Attorneys South Africa

Responsible ownership of dogs, regardless of the breed, is the best way to prevent tragic attacks on humans and other animals. Ultimately, it is up to the owner of a dog to not only protect people from harm, but to also protect their pets from such incidents.

If you are a victim of a dog bite or attack and would like to know more about claiming compensation from the owner, please contact our personal injury attorneys in Cape Town and Johannesburg for legal assistance.

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