Dog bite claims in Northern Ireland

Dog Bite Claims in Northern Ireland

 9th February, 2023

Dog bites can be serious. Victims can be left with severe physical injury and emotional trauma. Northern Ireland is the third worst place in the UK for dog attacks on postal workers with just under 50 reported in 2020-2021. Royal Mail confirmed 1,690 attacks in 2020 in the UK compared with 2445 in 2019/2020. In the Republic of Ireland in 2020, 320 people were hospitalised with injuries related to dog bites. 64% of these inpatients were over the age 20. These figures do not include people who only attended their GP or hospital emergency departments so the figure for total dog bite injuries that necessitated medical treatment is probably much higher.

What is the liability of a dog owner for injuries sustained when a dog bites someone and what are your rights to compensation?

The legislation relating to liability for injuries caused by dogs is contained in the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983. Article 29 of the Order makes the keeper of the dog guilty of a criminal offence if the dog attacks another person. Article 53 makes a breach of Article 29 actionable in damages.

The legislation refers not to the owner of the dog but the “keeper” of the animal and attaches both civil and criminal liability to the keeper for injuries caused by the dog. The “keeper” is essentially the owner of the dog or the person who has the dog in his possession. 

If a dog bites someone then the keeper of that animal is responsible in damages for any injuries caused by that bite. Injuries include both physical and psychological injuries. A dog does not have to actually bite a person for a liability to arise – it is sufficient if it behaves in a manner so as to cause apprehension of an attack.

There are some potential defences to an action for damages against the keeper of the dog:

  • Another person other than the keeper was in charge of the dog at the time of the attack and that other person was a fit and proper person to be in charge of the animal.
  • The person injured contributed to the injuries by in some way provoking the dog.
  • The person injured was contributory negligent in the incident that led to the injuries. In the case of Neeson v Acheson(2008) the injured party had hunkered down to put her cheek beside the dog. The dog bit her on the cheek. The claimant was awarded £6000 by the Judge but he reduced her damages by £2000 as he felt that claimant had been foolish in putting her face so close to the dog.

Reported awards that have been made by the Courts in Northern Ireland

In 2008 in the case of Neeson v Acheson(2008) the claimant sustained injuries to her cheek when bitten by a dog. Her physical injuries cleared up relatively quickly but she suffered from an adjustment reaction and subsequently developed a phobia of dogs. She was awarded £6000 but £2000 was deducted for contributory negligence.

The value of any claim for personal injuries in Northern Ireland is given in the Green Book which are guidelines referred to by lawyers and judges when assessing the value of physician and psychological injuries. Of most relevance in dog bite injuries in the scarring left after the injury heals. Facial scarring is dealt with at pages 47-48 of the Green Book  and scarring to other parts of the body at pages 49-50.

Reported awards in the South of Ireland

In 2022 a young boy aged 12 was awarded €95000 after been bitten by a dog. He was playing hurley on a GAA pitch when a dog escaped from its owners’ premises and ran onto the pitch biting him on his lower limbs. The action was against the dog’s owners.

 In 2021 a young woman was awarded €121917 in the High Court after she was bitten by a dog whilst visiting her friend’s house. The owners of the dog were found liable for the dog bites.

In 2017, a postman was awarded €100000 after he was bitten by a German Shepherd while delivering mail.

Frequently asked questions

Below we deal with some of the more frequently asked questions when it comes to dog bite injuries.

I was walking along the road and passing a setter that was on a lead with its owner. The dog bit me as I passed. The dog owner said that the dog never bit anyone before, he had the dog on a lead and the injury was therefore not his fault.  Do I have a claim for compensation? 

Yes. It is irrelevant that the dog was on a lead or that it had not bit anyone before.

I was out walking in the countryside when a collie like dog guarding a farm bit me. It was on a long chain but still managed to get onto the country road I was walking on. I had not entered the farm – the dog came out and attacked me. The farm owner said he had no responsibility as the dog was not a dangerous dog ie something like a pit bull or a mastiff and it was chained up. Do I have a case?

Yes. It does not matter whether the dog was chained up or was not a dangerous dog. The farmer is liable for injuries caused by the dog. The position may have been different if you had entered the property without permission and/or there was a warning sign about the guard dog. Whilst this may reduce the farmer’s liability it would not necessarily stop you from bringing a claim for damages.

I was in a public park for a walk when a large dog bounded over knocking me down. It did not bite me – it just knocked me over. I broke my arm. The dog owner said that she had the right to let her dog off the lead in a public park and that the dog had not done this before. She said the dog was just being playful, it had not bite me and that it was not her fault. Is she right?

No.  The fact that the dog was in a park is not relevant nor that it did not bite you. The owner is liable for your injuries. In any event, the dog owner is under a duty to ensure their dog is kept under control in a public place.

I was driving my car on a public highway when a dog ran onto the road causing me to crash. My car was damaged and I was hurt. Is the owner of the dog liable for my car damage and injuries?

Yes. The dog was clearly not under the control of its owner and all dog owners are required to keep their dogs under control in a public place. If the owner of the dog has home insurance it should cover the damage.

Sometimes I have my dog walked by a dog walker. Last week, the dog walker lost control of my dog and it bit someone. Am I responsible for injuries caused by my dog when it was the dog walker’s fault?

There may be a defence to any claim for compensation. Normally as keeper of the dog you are responsible for the dog and any injuries it may cause by biting someone. However under Article 28 of the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, if another person other than the keeper was in charge of the dog at the time of the attack and that other person was a fit and proper person to be in charge of the animal, then they may be responsible for the injuries caused by the dog. However you would need to ensure that any dog walker you employ has third party insurance that will cover any possible action for damages by the injured party.  

I was bitten by a dog but the person who appears to be the dog’s owner says they are not responsible as the dog is not “their dog” and is only a stray that they have looked after for some weeks. Are they responsible?

Under the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order, 1983, the definition of a dog owner (the “keeper” in the legislation) is someone who “owns the dog or has it in his possession”. The law assumes therefore that the owner or keeper of the dog is the person who had it in their possession when you were bitten. Unless they can prove otherwise, it is assumed in law that they are the owners or keepers of the animal.

Does home insurance cover injuries or damage caused by a dog?

Normally, home insurance does cover such damage. Some policies exclude cover for injuries caused by “dangerous dogs”. Much depends on the wording of the insurance policy but most policies cover injuries caused by dog bites.

What steps should I take if I or a member of my family has been bitten by a dog?

  1. Remain calm. Seek immediate medical assistance if necessary.
  2. Talk to the keeper/owner of the dog and get their contact details.
  3. Take photographs of the injury, the animal and where the incident took place.
  4. If there were any witnesses to the incident, get their contact details.
  5. Report the matter to the Policie. Remember to get the name of the officer to whom you reported the matter and the reference number of the incident report.
  6. Keep a record of what happened – if possible on the day it happened.
  7. See your solicitor.

What types of incidents do we normally see?

  1. Dog bites/attacks.
  2. Children bitten by dogs.
  3. Tradespeople, delivery workers, care workers and postal workers bitten by dogs on private property.
  4. Road traffic accidents including with cyclists caused by dogs.
  5. Animals spooked by dogs that either are hurt in dog attacks or cause other accidents.

What legal obligations does a dog owner have?

  1. All dogs in public places must be under the control of their owner or another person capable of controlling them.
  2. All dogs must have a valid dog licence.
  3. A dog must wear a collar with an attached plate, tag or disc with the owner’s name and address on it. Dogs must be microchipped.
  4. Dog keepers/owners must look after their animal and provide a suitable environment for it with adequate shelter, food and protection from disease, injury, pain and suffering.
  5. Dangerous dogs – pit bull terriers, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro - are banned
  6. A dog must not be allowed to foul in a public place. If it does happen, the person or the person in charge of the dog, must remove the faeces and dispose of it in a suitable, sanitary manner.
  7. Dogs that are not under proper control can be considered stray dogs and an owner can be given an on the spot fine for failing to keep their dog under proper control.
  8. Dogs must not chase or attack livestock on agricultural land and should be kept on a lead. Farmers can stop and even shoot dogs if they believe the dog is worrying their livestock. If their livestock are hurt by a dog, then the keeper/owner of the dog is responsible for the damage done.

What compensation will I receive for injuries caused by a dog bite?

This will depend on the nature of your injuries and your financial loss. It will include:

  1. Compensation for your injuries. The amount depends on how serious your injuries were and how long it takes you to recover from them.
  2. All your medical expenses, now and into the future.
  3. Any loss of earnings, now and into the future.
  4. The costs of any adaptions to your home or car because of your injuries.
  5. Any care costs that have been or will be incurred because of your injuries.
  6. Any other expenses.

How long do I have to make a claim?

Normally you have three years from the date of your injury. However:

  1. If your child sustains injury, a claim can be made any time before the child reaches the age of 18. Once your child reaches the age of 18, they have a further three years to make a claim themselves until they reach the age of 20.
  2. If the person who sustains the injury does not have mental capacity then there are no time limits.

Why Kearney Law?

We at Kearney Law are ready to assist you and have the knowledge and expertise you need to make a successful claim for compensation. We have an expert team ready to deal with your dog bite claim.  We will ensure you recover compensation for your injuries, swiftly and professionally.

We only do personal injury law and are experts at it.

For further assistance please ring us at 02890 912 938 or email us on [email protected] or fill in our contact form. The content of this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice. No solicitor/client relationship or duty of care or liability of any nature shall exist or arise between the Kearney Law Group and you and we refer you to our disclaimer on our website

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