Dog owner must pay attack victim

2014-03-05 00:00

ASHBURTON resident Janice Whitelaw, who was savaged by a neighbour’s pitbull terrier whilst jogging past their home in 2010, has won the right to claim damages from the owner, Keagan Pietersen.

In the absence of Pietersen or a legal representative putting in an appearance in the high court this week to defend the case, deputy judge president Achmat Jappie ruled that Pietersen is liable to pay damages to Whitelaw.

Her attorney, Siva Chetty, confirmed, however, that the amount of damages payable will still have to be proved and will be determined at a future date.

Whitelaw initially sued Pietersen for R405 000, taking into account her pain and suffering, psychological and emotional trauma, past and future medical expenses, loss of amenities of life and disfigurement resulting from her injuries.

Whitelaw, who works as a sub-editor at The Witness, welcomed the court’s ruling but said it is “only the first step” in the process to win damages for her injuries.

She told The Witness the attack by Pietersen’s dog, Velo, on February 4, 2010, had been traumatic and she still lives with the consequences.

“Jogging used to be a pleasure but now I have to jog with someone else, or get somebody to give me a lift to a safe place past the house where I can start jogging or even follow me by car,” she said.

Whitelaw is an enthusiastic jogger who averages 30 km per week.

In June 2010, Pietersen — then a 21-year-old student — was given a wholly suspended fine of R10 000 (or 12 months’ imprisonment) after pleading guilty to charges that he failed to confine his dog to his premises while it was not securely leashed or under his control.

In a statement to court at the time he admitted that the fence surrounding the property housing the dog was not adequate to stop the dog from jumping over. However, he maintained the dog had acted out of character.

The magistrate who sentenced him said the sentence should hang over his head to ensure that he met his responsibilities as a pet owner in future.

Whitelaw suffered serious injuries to her left arm when she was bitten by the pitbull and another smaller dog whilst jogging past the house.

A group of firemen who were playing soccer nearby came to Whitelaw’s rescue.

The pitbull terrier was euthanased by the SPCA after it was brought there by Pietersen’s father who requested it be destroyed because it had allegedly also bitten someone else.

According to the particulars of the claim filed on Whitelaw’s behalf in the high court this week, she suffered puncture wounds to the left of her chin and below the left of her neckline, multiple puncture wounds to her left forearm and an injury to the “left ulnar nerve” in the forearm.

She alleges that Pietersen was negligent for failing to confine his dog to his premises, knew that the dog was at times vicious and likely to jump over the fence and attack strangers, and had failed to take steps to safeguard people walking on the street or adjacent to his premises from possible attack.

Among other consequences, White-law was admitted to hospital from February 4 to 8, was unable to work for two weeks, suffered an acute stress reaction and emotional shock and still has physical scarring.

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