Dog attacks: Do you know your legal rights?

dog attacks

A dog attack is a frightening experience which can leave victims with emotional and physical scars, but we have also recently seen dog owners caught up in assaults over incidents with their pets.

Last week, a man fishing near Brisbane was punched in the face, falling and breaking his leg, during an attack by the owner of an aggressive dog. The man was defending himself against the dog who had approached the man in an aggressive manner several times while the owner made no effort to control his dog.

So, what rights do you have if you or your animal is attacked by a dog? And what responsibilities does the owner have?

There is legislation that sets out dog ownership laws in Australia but it can vary slightly in each state as the laws are administered by local councils.

In all states, owners must keep their dog under control at all times by either keeping them within a fenced area on their property or on a leash when in public. The penalties for failing to do so range from $200 to $5000.

Dog owners or those in control of a dog can be fined if they:

  • encourage a dog to attack or act in a threatening manner to a person or another animal;
  • did not taking reasonable steps to make sure the dog didn’t attack (like keeping the dog on a lead).

If your dog injures someone as a result of not being appropriately restrained, whether in a public place or even in your home, the victim may be entitled to legal recourse against you, either under legislation or in some cases common law rules of negligence.

There’s a range of situations where you may be legally liable for your dog’s actions. Including if it escapes from your property, causing injury to a pedestrian or damage to their property.

If a dog attacks a person or another animal the owner can be held responsible even if they are not present at the time.

Negligent owners can be criminally liable and face up to 10 years in jail for “conduct leading to an attack”. They could even be charged with manslaughter if someone is killed. If the dog owner is convicted the victim could be awarded victims of crime compensation by the court. A victim may also have rights to compensation in a civil action against the dog owner for losses caused by the injuries sustained in the attack.

Is the owner of the dog always liable?

A dog owner will not always be liable for a dog attack or bite. The owner is unlikely to be found guilty of an offence or to be held liable to pay compensation if, before an attack:

  • a dog is being teased, abused or assaulted by the person the dog then attacks;
  • the dog is witnessing a person known to the dog being attacked;
  • the person injured by the dog is trespassing on the premises on which the dog is kept; or
  • another animal comes onto the premises on which the dog is kept.

What do I do if I was attacked or bitten by a dog?

If you are injured by a dog and the authorities do not pursue a prosecution, you can sue the owner of the dog for damages as a result of their negligence in failing to properly control their dog. However, in order to do so, you must demonstrate that the owner was aware that their dog was prone towards dangerous behaviours. Showing that the dog had previously attacked someone else or another animal is excellent proof of the dog’s dangerous propensity.

If you or your pet have been injured as a result of a dog attack, you should speak to our team of experts at Perdriau Family Lawyers for advice as to what rights you may have.

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