ACTION DESK: Courts put bite on dog owners

John Breeze
John Breeze
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DOG owners are being warned to keep control of pets or face a massive bite out of their finances.

A Court of Appeal decision has tightened the rules on dog bite compensation, leaving owners facing payouts in almost every case, warns John Breeze at Atteys Solicitors.

Turnbull v Warrener applies to all cases brought under the Animals Act 1971, which is the basis on which all dog bite compensation claims are issued.

John said: “It is the first major ruling on the subject since 2003 and really reinforces that the law is now rigid on this point. Before, there was some room for confusion about the meaning of the Act - but now there is none.”

A client settled out of court to avoid being ordered to pay compensation and costs of more than £30,000 after her previously trouble-free dog allegedly bit someone.

“However well-behaved and a family dog may be 99 per cent of the time, there could be a small danger of the dog injuring someone.

“The court case means that if the victim of an injury makes a claim for compensation, the dog owner will almost always be found liable to pay.

“Our client, an uninsured dog owner, did not accept that her dog had bitten a fellow dog walker.

“But shortly before trial she accepted our advice that the court would probably find against her and she would have to pay compensation and costs because of the strict interpretation of the Animals Act 1971.

“Despite the injuries being quite minor, if the matter had gone to trial the compensation would have been up to £3,000 and she would have had to pay the claimant’s costs of up to £35,000. “Even minor injuries can lead to huge orders. While a claim for compensation for the victim may be as little as £1,000, a dog owner may face paying the costs of the victim’s no-win no-fee solicitors, court fees, medical reports, which can amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

“Dog owners should consider buying pet insurance or other insurance, such as buildings and contents, which covers public liability and legal expenses.”