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The dog-bite insurance you probably didn’t know you already have…

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Dog attacks are often unanticipated and can be really complicated to deal with, particularly when it’s between friends.

Many people don’t know that compensation for victims may not require you to go to Court and could be covered by the dog owner’s home and contents insurance.

James Treloar is a dog lover. In fact, you could say he is a little obsessed with the family pooch Murphy, an Irish red and white setter, whose goofy face would melt the hardest heart.

A family dog, Murphy is used to the loving affection of James’ three children. Murphy has a “rock-solid temperament” according to his “dad”, but would James allow Murphy to be unsupervised around other children? Not for a second.

This is Murphy (we thought you’d love seeing him as much as we did).

The seasoned lawyer and Partner at Maliganis Edwards Johnson has reported a rise in dog bite cases in the last eighteen months, so serious they require urgent medical attention.

While James clearly adores pooches, he has a healthy respect for their unpredictable nature. And he has seen first-hand the tragedy that can occur when an unsupervised toddler goes to hug a dog, or when a dog owner gets dragged into an uncontrolled fight between canines while out walking.

“I am a dog owner and respect them greatly, but I would make the point that no child should be left alone with a dog no matter how placid it may appear. Most attacks come completely out of the blue and can be traumatic and life-changing for the victim.”

James noted that in most cases, the dog owners were also horrified by their dog’s behaviour.

“It is traumatic for the owners, most of whom are responsible and love their dogs.”

It can come as a tremendous relief to the victim of a dog attack that the laws in the ACT enables compensation to be awarded, often without the injured party having to go to Court.

In fact, many people don’t realise that that compensation can be claimed under the dog-owner’s existing home and contents insurance.

“Often the matter is between friends, and the dog attack might have occurred at a child’s party when the excitement has died down and the dog is allowed to run around with the kids and perhaps parental supervision is not as vigilant.”

James said the prospect of taking a friend to court was not one that anyone relished.

“While it is possible to bring a claim directly against the dog owner, I tend to advise against it because it can be a pyrrhic victory, succeeding in a claim against a dog owner who is usually distraught about the situation.”

Instead, in most case, the owner’s general home and contents insurance will cover their liability to pay damages.

“So while the victim is entitled to compensation, the dog owner is fully covered in the majority of situations.”

According to James, dog owners are under strict obligations under the Domestic Animals Act to keep their dogs appropriately restrained, while defences are sometimes applicable – including provocation or unlawful trespass on the owner’s property.

“If you’re attacked by a dog and one of the defences doesn’t apply, you may be entitled to general damages, which includes compensation for pain and suffering and mental harm, out-of-pocket expenses, including hospital expenses, loss of income and domestic assistance needs, both for the past and into the future , which  can often be the case especially with young children.”

James has helped many dog attack victims negotiate a settlement based on the severity of the client’s injuries and the impact on their quality of life.

Such as the recent case of a teenage girl, who was attacked while attending a birthday party at her friend’s house and the family dog had been let out ‘mingle’ while guests began to depart.

“As the girl bent over to pat the dog goodbye, it unexpectedly lashed out and caught her top lip and nose.  The dog had not shown aggression previously, and the victim was rushed to hospital where she underwent surgery.  She was successful in claiming damages against the home and contents insurer of the property owner.”

James said the best way forward was always for dog owners to be cautious about supervising their dogs, especially around children.

“I would say that the overwhelming majority of dog owners are responsible, and most attacks are unanticipated and deeply shocking events”.

“While it is unfortunate to see an increase in the cases relating to dog bites, the rise may be due to peoples’ increasing awareness of the legal avenues available to them to seek and receive compensation.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by a dog attack, you can chat with James and his team at MEJ.


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