Dog attacks – who is liable to pay compensation?
Under the law in NSW as the owner of a dog you are personally responsible for any damage the dog may cause.
An owner could be different people, for example if I were to purchase a dog for my partner, I may be the registered owner. However, if I then break up with my partner and the dog lives at a new address and is “ordinarily kept” at the new address my partner would also be considered an owner.
The law in NSW is governed by the Companion Animals Act NSW 1998.
Who is the owner of a dog?
Section 7 of the Act defines who is an owner of a dog.
Each of the following persons is the owner of a companion animal for the purposes of this Act:
(a) the owner of the animal (in the sense of being the owner of the animal as personal property),
(b) the person by whom the animal is ordinarily kept,
(c) the registered owner of the animal.
(d) A reference to the owner of a companion animal is a reference to each and all owners of the animal.
If I were to give the dog to another, but fail to remove myself as a registered owner I could be liable for any damage the dog causes even though I have given the dog away to someone else.
If you are an owner you need to have insurance in place to cover you for any damage the dog may cause.
Home and Contents Insurance with public liability will ordinarily cover the owner of a dog but you should check the policy wording to see in what circumstances you are covered.
Without insurance you are personally responsible to pay for any damage a dog causes if you are found to be the owner.
A person who is injured can sue any one of the owners if there are more than one.
When are you liable for your dog’s actions?
Liability is defined in Section 25 of the Act.
The owner of the dog is liable for any damage the dog may cause by;
(a) bodily injury to a person caused by the dog wounding or attacking that person, and
(b) damage to the personal property of a person (including clothing) caused by the dog in the course of attacking that person.
It is strict liability. This means that if your dog attacks someone you are responsible.
There are two defences that can be raised as to why you should not be responsible for your dog’s attack;
(a) an attack by a dog occurring on any property or vehicle of which the owner of the dog is an occupier or on which the dog is ordinarily kept, but only if the person attacked was not lawfully on the property or vehicle and the dog was not a dangerous dog, menacing dog or restricted dog at the time of the attack, or
(b) an attack by a dog that is in immediate response to, and is wholly induced by, intentional provocation of the dog by a person other than the owner of the dog or the owner’s employees or agents.
The two defences are basically if someone comes onto your property uninvited and the dog attacks, or the dog attacks because it was provoked by another person. In either situation the owner will not be held liable unless the dog is classed as a dangerous dog.
The defence does not apply to another dog provoking your dog to attack, only another person.
Often dog attacks occur when two dogs get in a fight and one of the owners intervenes. If that person is attacked by the other dog then the owner of the dog that attacks will be liable for any damage caused.
If your dog has attacked someone else the Council may seize and destroy the dog and you may be prevented from ever being able to own another dog.