Dog attacks – who’s responsible?
29 Jan 2019
- Personal Injury
Dog attacks can be traumatic and result in serious injuries. They can also be expensive. It’s not always clear, however, who’s responsible for the attack, and whether or not compensation can be claimed.
In this article, Daniel Low, Senior Paralegal with Snedden Hall & Gallop Lawyers, reviews two recent cases dealing with dog attacks in the ACT. In one case a dog attacks another dog; in the other, a dog attacks a person.
Case 1: Howard v Lapwood  ACAT 123
In this case, which was heard before the ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal (ACAT), Ms Howard’s small Shih tzu (Orea), was attacked and severely injured by a neighbour’s dogs. Orea was Ms Howard’s daughter’s service animal.
The neighbour’s dogs – two large Alaskan malamutes (Ranger and Babe) – had snuck through the dilapidated fence between the houses before attacking Orea.
After Ms Howard’s house-sitter freed Orea from Ranger’s mouth, Orea was taken to the vet. The vet bill was nearly $15,000 and Ms Howard sought to recover those costs from her neighbours. The neighbours, however, declined to pay the costs.
Ms Howard brought proceedings in ACAT, where a straightforward application of the Domestic Animals Act 2000 (ACT) found that Ranger’s owner, Ms Lapwood, was liable to compensate Ms Howard. However, because Ms Lapwood had left the country, it would have been difficult for Ms Howard to recover her costs against her.
Accordingly, Ms Howard brought proceedings against Ms Lapwood’s ex-partner, Mr Ralph, who was found to be a ‘carer’ of Ranger. Accordingly, because Mr Ralph knew that his dog, Babe, had entered Ms Howard’s property through the broken fence on numerous occasions, the Tribunal found that he was partially liable for the damage caused.
The alternative finding was that, because the malamute breed has a pack mentality, Babe’s presence was found to be a necessary condition for the attack. However, because Ms Howard was also aware of the rundown fence, the Tribunal found that she was also liable. Ultimately, 50% of the liability was apportioned to Ms Lapwood, 40% to Mr Ralph and 10% to Ms Howard.
This decision highlights the importance for animal owners to ensure that their properties are properly enclosed to avoid the risk of compensating the damage caused by their animals.
Case 2: Meyers v Commissioner for Social Housing  ACTSC 193
In this ACT Supreme Court case, Mr Meyers was attacked by dogs at a Housing Commission residence. He suffered serious injuries from the attack.
The evidence showed that one of Mr Meyers’ neighbours allowed visitors, who owned two aggressive dogs that barked excessively, on to the property. Mr Meyers complained to the Housing Commission about this.
Subsequently, the dogs attacked a visitor, although that visitor wasn’t harmed. This time Mr Meyers complained to Domestic Animal Services. However, the dogs weren’t on the site when Domestic Animal Services attended the premises.
The dogs returned to the residence at a later date. Domestic Animal Services was again notified and they attended. However, they didn’t take any action as there was no response at the premises.
A few weeks later, the dogs attacked Mr Meyers when he was leaving his apartment, injuring him.
The ACT Supreme Court found that the Housing Commission didn’t owe a duty of care to Mr Meyers with respect to visitors and their dogs. The Judge found that, even if a duty did exist, it hadn’t been breached as there was no action that the Housing Commission could have taken in terms of seizing the dogs.
One of the factors that the Judge relied on was that the relevant legislative framework put the onus on dog owners as being responsible for such attacks. Therefore, holding the ACT – on behalf of the Housing Commission– responsible, would be inconsistent with this framework.