You’re taking a neighbourhood walk when a dog rushes out from the driveway of a house and latches onto your leg. What is your legal situation if the dog has injured you?

As reflected in a quarterly report issued by the New South Wales Office of Local Government, there were 1,260 “dog attack incidents” between 1 July 2019 and 30 September 2019. For the purposes of the report, a “dog attack incident” is defined as: one in which “a dog rushes at, attacks, bites, harasses or chases any person or animal (other than vermin)…”  However, these are not necessarily incidents in which a dog actually hurts a person or another animal.

All of that being stated, the report also indicates that 292 people were injured in these incidents. Of those, 193 sustained injuries that were not serious and 136 required medical treatment. Fifty people were hospitalised and one person died.

And all of this begs a question. How do you file a dog bite claim in New South Wales? Keep reading to find out.

Who is legally responsible?

In New South Wales, the Companion Animals Act NSW 1998 stipulates that a dog owner is “personally responsible” for any damage it causes.  The law also defines a dog owner as:

  • the registered owner;
  • the person who usually has custody and control over the dog;
  • someone who claims the dog as his or her personal property.

Clearly, additional explanation is warranted here. To clarify, consider the following scenarios. Suppose you buy the dog for your son. For all intents and purposes, you are then considered the registered owner. This consideration will be valid until any applicable documents are changed, meaning if you give the dog away and remain as its registered owner, you will potentially still be held responsible for it should it later bite someone.

Now let’s say you get divorced and your son  moves out with his mother. As long as the dog is now kept at the new address, your son (or your ex-wife) may be considered the owner.

Finally, if your former wife officially claims the dog as her personal property for the purposes of separation or divorce, she may also be regarded as the owner.

These are important distinctions because an injured person can sue any of you if there are multiple owners of the dog.

What can a dog owner be held liable for?

As a New South Wales dog owner, you are legally responsible for:

  • any physical harm incurred by someone who is attacked or bitten by your dog; and
  • any damage to the victim’s personal property, such as their clothing, incurred when your dog attacks or bites them.

Keep in mind that a dog bite claim in New South Wales is a strict liability claim, meaning no fault on your part needs to be proved. As we have already noted, you are responsible for your dog’s actions in these circumstances.

When you can make a claim

Your ability to make a successful dog bite claim in New South Wales largely depends on the circumstances of your case. This is because no two situations are exactly the same. In general, you may be able to seek compensation through a public liability claim if:

  • you were bitten by a dog that wasn’t secured or contained correctly;
  • you were bitten by a loose dog.

Types of compensation you may seek

If your dog bite claim in New South Wales is successful, you will be compensated for all applicable physical and emotional injuries and losses. Depending on your situation, you may be compensated for:

  • initial hospital and medical costs;
  • loss of earnings due to the inability to work;
  • ongoing medical costs (for rehabilitation, prescription medications and so on);
  • pain and suffering;
  • loss of enjoyment of life (the inability to participate in the same activities as you did prior to the incident);
  • paid or unpaid home care and similar assistance provided by anyone as long as it meets certain criteria.

Defences used in dog bite cases

Lawyers for defendants in these cases generally use two arguments to refute liability claims. The first is that you had no right to be on the property when you were bitten. The second is that the dog attacked due to provocation by someone else. Either way, the dog owner would not be held legally responsible.

The only exceptions are:

  • If the dog is classified as a dangerous dog;
  • another dog provokes the attack (instead of another person);
  • one owner is bitten while trying to break up a fight between two dogs.

To learn more about your legal rights and responsibilities as a dog owner or a dog bite victim, simply contact a member of our award-winning liability law team. You can do so through our website or by calling 1800 431 59o for a free case evaluation today.