My pet, my rules? LAW CORNER

2017-02-01 06:01

OWNING a pet can be both rewarding and fulfilling with many pet owners adopting their pets as being part of the family. The recent incident of two Durban toddlers being mauled by the family Pit bull has sparked increased media attention. Can the owner of an animal be liable in law to compensate a victim for injuries they have suffered as a result of an attack?

So, you’re on your weekly Sunday afternoon stroll around the neighbourhood and you’re suddenly confronted by the neighbours snarling Boerbull. You attempt to change street sides, but before you’re able to execute your escape plan, the dog has already sunk its teeth into your calf. The Actio de Pauperie is an action founded in the law of damages (or delict) upon which these types of claims are based. The general rule is that the owner may be held liable by virtue of his ownership - even if faultless.

Seeing that your pooch is responsible for the attack, you will be liable for damages if the victim (complainant) is successful in proving that you were the owner of the animal at the time of injury; that the animal is domesticated, as this principle does not apply to wild animals; that the conduct or action of the animal caused the damage and finally that the animal acted contrary to the nature of a domesticated animal.

The unknowing animal owner is not left completely defenceless in these circumstances, however, the onus, or burden of proof, falls to the owner to prove a valid defence. There are a few defences that may be raised including the animal being provoked; if the complainant was on the property unlawfully; where the action of the animal was not contrary to its nature, such as a bite from a tail-trodden canine; a third party had control over the animal and the damage occurred due to that person’s negligence; where an agreement exists which indemnifies the owner from being responsible for injury caused or that the complainant knew of the risk and voluntarily accepted it.

As a protective measure, it is common for pet owners now to take out insurance to protect against such injuries and to cover any losses that may be suffered as a result of their animal’s actions. Either way, pet owners should act rationally and ensure their pets are properly monitored to prevent any incidents in the first place.

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