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Liability for injury caused by a dog

There are plenty of reasons to keep your dog on a tight lead or restrained. Perhaps a muzzle might even be a good idea.


In South Australia the Cat and Dog Management Act stipulates that the owner of a dog is liable if the dog causes injury to a person. It is not a defence to say that the dog did not have a propensity to attack. Nor is it a defence to say that your dog escaped your premises.

Liability is essentially automatic if your dog attacks or injures a person. There can be exceptions under the legislation, but these are limited. One such exception is if the person who was injured provoked the dog. It is therefore important that you ensure that your dog is kept within your premises. In fact, even when visitors come to your premises you must make sure your dog is not in a position to bite a visitor – and that extends beyond visiting friends to door knockers, trades people and yes, even the postie.

Additionally, when you take your dog for a walk, it should be under proper control including use of a leash, lead or chain. Certain dogs may require further measures, such as a muzzle.

One way of protecting yourself financially, is to have home and contents insurance that may provide for cover in circumstances whereby your dog causes injury to people. Such cover is not automatic and you should ask your insurer whether the coverage is included in your policy.

In the unfortunate instance of an injury due to a dog, I recommend that if you are injured you report the matter immediately to the local Council. If the dog is outside premises, the Council may dispatch a Ranger to track down, collect the dog and ascertain the identity of the owner. I wouldn’t recommend that you try to restrain a dog while you are waiting for help.

I have handled many cases involving injuries caused by dogs and a claim may be worthwhile even if the physical injury is minor, yet there is psychological trauma.

The dog in the photo is our family pet. Her name is Rosie. Her overbite is her scariest aspect. Even if she hurts someone, we would be liable. It would be no defence for us to say ""she has never done that before"" or ""she has never before displayed such propensity"". She may, as in other cases I have handled, cost us (or our insurer) tens of thousands of dollars. We simply can't predict how such an incident effects someone. The legal jargon is 'the eggshell skull rule'.

If you are injured by a dog, by all means call me, or complete the free case appraisal form.

Written by
Graeme Kirkham
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