Despite being a nation of dog lovers, the Health and Social Care Information Centre ("HSCIC") records confirm that in the last decade 27 people have been killed by dogs and hospitalisations have risen by 76%.
Dog biting incidents are on the increase and can cause life changing injuries, especially if children are involved and victims and their families may wonder whether they can bring a claim for compensation.
There is no legal requirement for a dog to be insured. If the dog is not insured you can still bring a claim, but you will need to be realistic about whether the dog owner has the ability to pay.
Even if you can claim against an insurance company, these cases are far from straightforward. A claim will be based on what we call the "common law" as well as statutory duties and the rather confusing Animals Act 1971.
This Act imposes a liability on the dog keeper (i.e. the owner, or the person who has the animal in its possession) for damage done by that animal. If the dog was a 'dangerous species' then the owner will be liable for damage done by that dog, with little or no defence.
If, however, the dog is not in the "dangerous species" category then liability will depend on a number of criteria which the Claimant will have to satisfy. The fact that you have been bitten or injured is not enough to satisfy the court.
A victim of an attack by a species of a dog that is not dangerous (e.g. a family dog such as a retriever) has to prove that the injury suffered was either the kind of damage that the dog, unless restrained, was likely to cause or was likely to be severe and that this was not due to the normal characteristics of the dog or perhaps only at particular times or in certain circumstances (i.e. it was feeling threatened). The victim must show that the characteristics of the dog were known to the keeper.
Expert evidence has to be obtained to prove certain dogs will attack in certain circumstances.
Even if the criteria are satisfied there are Defences available to the dog owner, such as the victim 'voluntarily accepted' the risk.
These claims are not straightforward and so it is important that if you have suffered a serious injury as a result of a dog bite you should instruct a specialist solicitor experienced in this field.