Savage dog attacks result in more people dying in South Africa than anywhere else in the world. Young children are most at risk.
South Africa’s rampant crime rate has encouraged ownership of large breeds of dogs known to be aggressive. In some areas, a surge in dog fighting – which is illegal in this country – has exacerbated the situation.
What does the law say about dog bite injuries?
The law relating to dog bite claims in South Africa is very clear. If a dog bites you or a family member, the owner of the dog is liable.
Dog bite claims are covered by the principle of strict liability. This means the dog’s owner is legally responsible for the damage or loss caused by the dog.
There’s no requirement that the claimant prove fault, negligence or intention.
Dog bite claims: mitigating factors
However, certain mitigating factors may exist. A dog’s owner may be found not to be liable for injuries caused by the dog if:
- the victim provoked the dog to attack by teasing or taunting it
- the dog acted “contrary to its nature”; hence the owner could not have predicted the attack, or avoided it
- the victim was warned that the dog was dangerous but did not listen
- the victim was illegally on the dog owner’s premises when the attack occurred.
What to do if a dog attacks you
If a dog behaves aggressively toward you, avoid eye contact, turn your body slowly to the side, cross your arms, ball your hands into fists (to protect your fingers) and ignore the dog. Remain still for a short time and then move slowly away. Aim to get a barrier between you and the dog.
After a dog actually attacks and injures you, your immediate priority is to get proper medical care. Rinse with clean water if possible, staunch bleeding with a clean towel or garment, and if a limb is involved, keep it elevated. Keep as calm as possible, and get medical help.
Also, it’s useful for legal purposes if you can collect as much information as possible, at the scene and afterwards. If you’ve been injured, a friend or family member might help do this.
Contact details and witness statements
Aim to identify the owner of the dog. Make a note of the owner’s name, address, telephone numbers and ID number.
Ask witnesses for their contact details, and ask them to write down a detailed description of exactly what happened. Determine the breed of the dog, and, if possible, whether it has a past history of aggression.
Take photographs of the bite marks, the dog and the scene of the incident. Record anything that may relate to the attack, such as ripped or blood-stained clothing, or a broken or dilapidated fence or open gate that allowed the dog to get out of its property.
Video the animal, particularly if it is acting aggressively, provided it is behind a fence or properly restrained.
Medical records and reports
Ask your doctor for copies of the medical records and reports detailing the severity of the injuries. Keep all the medical accounts, and record any payments made by yourself or your medical aid.
Report the incident to the police
If the injuries are severe, it’s recommended you report the attack at the nearest police station. Give a detailed account of how, when and where the incident occurred.
You’ll be given a case number and can use the police report as evidence. The police may decide to confiscate the dog, or have it destroyed.
Get legal help
At DSC Attorneys, we specialise in personal injury claims and have extensive experience in handling dog bite claims. We can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. Note that we work on a no win, no fee basis.