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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The dogma of Dog LAW

Not a day passes by without news of road accidents.  For the victim it is a tortuous process to recover from the trauma of an accident and get compensation from the tortfeasor.   There are Motor Accident Claims Tribunals (MACTs) which deal with the claims relating to loss of life / property and injury cases arising from use of Motor vehicles in a public place.  Courts here take long time to dispense justice.   And in rare cases deliverance of justice does not guarantee the compensation.  

Most of you likely would have had some close encounters with dogs –  whether you raised a pet dog or not.  Though I never had occasion to one,  some of my friends have had and one was fond of his Rajapalayam breed, which in some ways was a show of aristocracy. 

To some, there are only two types – the ones that loiter dangerously on streets and other menacing ones that tend to break away from the chords of their keepers.  Both instill some fear – not to speak of the puny Pomeranians and other breeds, people tend to carry rather than walk along.

As one ventures out in the darkness after twilight or in the morning before sun rise, the presence of a dog can be unnerving.  Often one hears of dogs pouncing and biting people.  More so, of dog owners letting loose their mongrels and not caring when it attacks lesser mortals.  There are some who cruelly enjoy the fear of the poor.  There used to be stories of postman, sales girls and others who would take to their heels after unwittingly entering a posh premises without knowledge of a dog.  

Whilst dog bite is common, the law relating to it is not.  In India we do not have a specialized law relating to dog bit but would perhaps could still pursue under torts and common law.  In many advanced countries, there is Dog bite law.  From a commoners’ perspective – criminal laws impose punishment and civil laws provide monetary compensation.

In US most States have statute imposing liability on dog owner for all dog bites, irrespective of whether the dog was a good dog or not.  The victim gets compensation from the dog owners homeowners or renters insurance.  In some places, the liability would ensue only when the owner could be accused of negligence, intentional or violative of a leash law or other animal control law.    There is also some debate on "dangerous" and "vicious"  dogs.  
Conceptually, a dangerous dog is not whether the particular one will ever bite, but whether it presents great risk of serious injury – not going by what it has done, but by what others of its class had done.    The definition tends to differentiate between the bites of  teacup-sized dogs  and some types which use their mouths to seize and guide as opposed to crush and rip, seemingly do not present risk of serious injury.  Then there are some reared for the specific purpose of killing animals.   A dog can be legally classified as "dangerous" or "vicious" based upon its actions, its breed, or the actions of its owner, either before or after an official hearing, pursuant to the law of the jurisdiction where the dog is present.   Some contend that a dog's propensity to chase and fight with other domestic animals should be considered dangerous to people because of the high number of serious injuries to people that occur during such incidents.

In European and American countries more people have pets.  Dog bite is a pressing issue for the society.   Going by the law in New Jersey, a dog owner would be held liable for the injuries caused by a bite of his dog regardless of the owner’s knowledge or any previous viciousness.  It is strict liability which would mean that the owner is held responsible or liable for the damages the dog causes, regardless of fault or blame for the accident.

The injured person must show that the defendant is the owner of the dog, the dog bit the injured party and the bite occurred while the person was in a public place or lawfully in a private place, which shall include the dog owner’s property.

In a case where a dog attacked a young child while she swam in a neighbor's pool, the Court ruled  that an "owner" is a person who holds themselves out to the world as such and enjoys the benefits and burdens of having the dog.  But landlords who have no connection to a dog other than owning the property where dog may reside are not classified as owners under the Act.  

Ordinarily, an owner is strictly liable to anyone for injuries sustained from his dog's bite in a public place or while the victim is lawfully in a private place.

There was another interesting cased where the owner sought damages for emotional distress.  In her petition, the women stated that the death of dog was likened to the death of a treasured family member.    In June 2007, a small dog was mauled to death in Morris County by a larger dog which grabbed it by the neck and shook it several times.  

In a recent judgment, New Jersey Court ruled that the owner of a mauled dog cannot get damages for emotional distress.  The Court rules that the petitioner is entitled to  replacement cost of the dog which was $5000 but added that the petitioner was not entitled to damages as the pets are considered property for which only economic damages ma be sought and awarded.  

A liberal UK reformer of 19th Century – Jeremy Bentham   was of the view that the primary aim of the criminal law was deterrence.  He called the criminal law as dog law because it condemned the offenders after the event occurred much in the same way as the owners would punish their dogs after they have erred.  

Hope this generated some interest.  Do provide your feedback here or mail to  :

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.


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    Lawyer expert in dog law and personal injury is much more aware of your legal identification of the mill. Thanks
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