One of life’s greatest joys is welcoming a dog home and continuing its domestication, a relationship between humans and canines that started between 20 000 and 40 000 years ago. It is strange to think that, despite those floppy ears and wagging tails, dogs are in fact descended from wolves.

This makes sense considering their fiercely loyal ways and the reality that many South Africans also consider their dog/s a safety feature.

With great power also comes great responsibility in the form of strict liability. Strict liability means liability where absolutely no fault is required. In other words, due to no fault on the part of a pet owner, a pet owner may be held accountable for the actions of their furry companion.

A person on the receiving end of an animal’s aggression and/ or unpredictable behaviour may hold a pet owner accountable for past and future medical expenses, past and future loss of income, pain and suffering, loss of amenities of life, disability, and disfigurement. This is regardless of whether or not the owner was in possession of the animal at the time when harm was caused.

There are, however, a few instances in which pet owners may circumvent their strict liability, such as:

  1. The defence of unauthorised entry and is where a burglar for example enters the property. There are, however, instances where the mailman or a water meter reader has a lawful purpose to enter, in which case the pet owner may still be found liable.
  2. Voluntary acceptance of risk for example is where a house guest is warned to wait for the owner to get home from work before entering the property, as there is a guard dog on duty, but that house guest then decides to jump the fence or enter the property in advance. It is a good idea for all dog owners to put a notice on their gates to inform others that they enter at their own risk.
  3. Provocation in the sense that the injured person teased or taunted the dog, which then caused the dog to bite or attack.

Herewith are a few tips/ ideas for pet owners to follow to mitigate their risk:

  1. Install a notice on the fence and/ or gate to inform others of a guard dog and that they accordingly enter at their own risk.
  2. Inspect fences/ gates frequently so that potential exits/ holes can be covered as soon as possible. Remember that pet liability extends to instances where a dog escapes the property and injures a passerby in the street or park.
  3. Consider installing a camera in the yard to verify provocation or the escape route of the dog from the premises. The injured person would need to keep all medical reports, and photos and perhaps have a witness to corroborate his/ her version of events.

Speak to a broker and/or scrutinise the terms and conditions of the relevant homeowner’s insurance policy, as it may cover a pet injury claim.

Ensure all the pet’s vaccinations are up to date as diseases such as rabies can be transmitted via saliva or other bodily fluids and may even lead to the death of humans and, naturally, largescale claims against the pet owner.

Despite the many responsibilities and strict liability of pet owners, the domestication of the wolf to dog over the last thousands of years has brought about many blessings. This includes gentle care in the case of people with autism, guide dogs for the blind and companionship for the lonely.

Contact RoadCover today should you require assistance following an injury caused by a pet. Note that RoadCover Clients have access to a dedicated legal assist line as serviced by Legal Hero.