Just last month a 58-year-old Perth woman died after she was attacked by two dogs. Sue Lopicich was walking several dogs on her property when the attack occurred. No previous complaints had been made about the dogs. (news.com.au)

This tragedy has brought the issue of dog attacks back into public debate. If your dog attacks or wounds another person, you may be liable under both criminal and civil legislation.

Criminal Liability

Under section 35A(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) it is an offence to cause a dog to inflict grievous bodily harm on another person. If it can be shown that a person had control of a dog, does any act or omission which causes the dog to inflict grievous bodily harm and was reckless as to the injury that may be caused by the act or omission, that person is guilty of an offence. The maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment.

Section 35A(2) contains a similar offence. Any person who has control of a dog, does any act or omission which causes the dog to inflict actual bodily harm and was reckless as to the injury that may be caused by the act or omission is guilty of an offence. The maximum penalty in this instance is 5 years imprisonment.

Section 51 of the Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW) also imposes specific requirements on owners of dangerous or menacing dogs.  A dog is considered “dangerous” if it has, without provocation, attacked or killed a person or animal (other than vermin) or has repeatedly threatened to attack or repeatedly chased a person or animal (other than vermin) or if it is kept or used for the purposes of hunting.

Certain breeds of dog may be considered “dangerous” or “menacing”. In NSW, restrictions apply to breeds including Pitbull terriers, Japanese tosas and Argentinian fighting dogs. Owners of these breeds of dogs should take extra caution.

If you own a dangerous or menacing dog, you must comply with certain control requirements. The dog must be desexed and kept in an enclosure that cannot be accessed by children. Owners must also display at least one sign on their property with the words “Warning Dangerous Dog”.

Civil Liability

Under section 25 of the Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW) the owner of a dog is liable for damages in respect of:

  • Bodily injury to a person caused by the dog wounding or attacking that person, and
  • Damage to the personal property of a person (including clothing) caused by the dog in the course of attacking that person

However this section does not apply to an attack by a dog occurring on any property occupied by the dog’s owner or on which the dog is ordinarily kept, provided that the person attacked was not lawfully on the property and the dog was not classified as a dangerous, menacing or restricted dog at the time of the attack.

Similarly the dog’s owner will not be liable for damages in instances where an attack was an immediate response to intentional provocation of the dog.

The laws surrounding dog attacks can be complex. If your dog has attacked or bitten another person, it is best to seek legal advice. Similarly, if you or a family member has been attacked or injured by a dog, it is best to seek legal advice as to your rights under the law.

Image: Adelaide Dog Attack Register

Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper

Criminal Lawyer