Churchill magazine

Understanding dogs and third party liability

Updated on: 16 September 2020

third party liability

If your dog, or any animal under your control, injures a person, another animal or destroys property, you may be liable for damages. This would be a civil claim and not necessarily a criminal offence, so the case would be between individuals.

Dangerous dog

The law is particularly tough regarding ‘dangerous dogs’. The legal advice service, Advice now, explains that in 1991 the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed, which made it a criminal offence to allow a dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place, or a private place where the dog is not entitled to be. The law meant that the owner, or the person in charge of the dog at the time of the offence, could be prosecuted for their dog’s actions.

In fact, any dog can be regarded as being ‘dangerously out of control’ if there are grounds for suspecting that it will injure a person, whether or not it actually does. Even if no injury is caused, a fine of £2,000 or up to six months imprisonment can be imposed. If actual injury does occur, a penalty of up to two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine can be ordered and, if appropriate, destruction of the dog concerned.

In addition to any criminal prosecution, victims also have the right to take out civil action against the dog’s owner for damages to themselves or their property.

Negligent owners

The legal website Desktop Lawyer points out that as a pet owner whose animal has damaged someone else’s property you may be liable in accordance with the principles of ‘common law negligence’. Basically, the law imposes a duty on any owner, or person responsible, to ensure that their animal isn’t likely to injure their neighbour.

But as the owner, you’re in a tough position, because the claimant doesn’t need to prove you had actual knowledge that the animal was dangerous. They just have to show that damage was ‘reasonably foreseeable’.

Someone who has been injured by your pet has three options to use in pursuing their claim against you:

  • The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957
  • The Animals Act 1971
  • The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

Best defence

A pet owner facing a damage claim may escape liability if they can show that:

  • The ownership or possession of the animal has passed to another person
  • The damage or injury ‘is due wholly to the fault of the person suffering it’
  • The claimant voluntarily assumed the risk of being injured

Animal cruelty is a serious offence, and if someone wilfully injures your pet in retaliation, or otherwise, your pets are protected by several laws. The main one is The Protection of Animals Act 1911, which protects against the ill-treatment of domestic or captive animals.

But above all, in cases where you face legal action because of your animal, it is advisable to seek legal advice as early as possible.

Insuring yourself and your dog

If you take out a pet insurance policy with Churchill for your dog, you will have third party liability cover. (Please note that we cannot offer liability cover for cats).

If you’re found to be legally liable to pay compensation because your dog has injured another person or their property, and you do not have any other insurance you can claim against, we will provide cover up to the value of £1,000,000.

For full terms and conditions on this type of cover, read our pet insurance policy document.

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