The Legal Cases All Dog Owners in South Africa Should Know About

Compensation for dog bite claims in South Africa can include payment for past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings and general damages for pain and suffering, says specialist law firm DSC Attorneys.

The company notes that dog attacks resulting in serious injuries are not uncommon in the country, as large dog breeds are popular and many residents own dogs to protect themselves from potential intruders.

“In South Africa, a dog attack can give rise to a claim on the basis of the ‘action of poverty’, against the owner of the dog. With this type of claim, the owner’s liability does not depend on actual negligence or intent to harm.

The legal principle dating back to Roman law, known as ‘poverty action‘ considers that the owner of a domestic animal is normally held strictly liable for damage caused by this animal.

DSC’s attorneys noted that for this claim to succeed, it must be established that:

  • The defendant (the person you are claiming against) owns the dog;
  • The dog is a domestic animal;
  • The dog acted out of nature (which, it is assumed, does not imply wanting to attack people); and
  • The dog has caused harm to the person complaining.

Cases to know

DSC lawyers have described some of the recent cases which show how dog bites can result in millions of rands in claims in South Africa.

R1.4 million

In 2021, Mohammed Essack of Howick West was attacked by a neighbour’s pit bull. The dog entered his property and attacked him, resulting in injuries that required hospitalization.

Essak is currently seeking R1.4 million in damages. The case, brought to court in Pietermaritzburg in May 2021, has been adjourned to a date to be agreed.

R2.4 million

In the case of 2020, Cloete versus Van Meyeren, a man was attacked and seriously injured by three pit bull dogs on a public road. He claimed damages of R2,341,000 from the owners of the dogs.

The owner (the defendant) argued that the dogs were only able to escape from his property because an intruder left the gate to his property open. Normally the door was secured with a padlock.

The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff – a decision that reinforced the principle of poverty action.

The court decision provides that “the owner of a dog who attacks a person who was lawfully in the place where he was injured, and who neither provoked the attack nor by his negligence has contributed to his own injury, is bound, as owner, to make good the resulting damages”.

4 million rand

In 2020, a victim of a dog attack lost an arm from the elbow down. A liability insurance claim was settled out of court for just over R4 million.

What affects compensation for dog bite claims in South Africa?

According to the concept of poverty actionthe negligence of the dog’s owner is not a prerequisite for the success of the claim.

Nevertheless, a claim is more likely to succeed if there is evidence of negligence on the part of the owner. For example, not fixing a door that won’t close or a gap in the fence or leaving a dog off-leash in a public space.

The behavior of the attacked person may also be relevant. For example, was the plaintiff attacked after illegally entering the dog owner’s property? Also, did the plaintiff provoke the dog?

Like other types of personal injury claims, dog bite claims can be complex. Even if a dog attack occurs on the owner’s property, the owner could be held responsible.

Other factors that may affect compensation in a dog bite claim include:

  • Medical costs associated with injuries;
  • Loss of income due to injury;
  • The severity and likely long-term consequences of the injuries sustained; and
  • The age of the applicant.

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About Charles D. Goolsby

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