I have been assaulted by an animal: what do I do?

23/08/2019

Animal attacks are the stuff of nightmares. When a seemingly adorable canine suddenly turns into a dangerous predator, it is understandably traumatic. It is important to know that if an animal has attacked you, you may be eligible to a public liability claim for personal injury compensation, as its owner may have breached their duty of care towards you.

In Australia, animal attacks are not uncommon, as Jack* had the misfortune of experiencing first-hand. When visiting a friend’s home one evening, Jack and his friend were sitting in the lounge room enjoying a glass of wine. His friend got up to check on the dinner, and his friend’s dog that had been quietly sitting on the couch next to him suddenly growled at Jack. Having a dog of his own at home, Jack thought nothing more of this and reached out to the dog to pat it. The dog leapt forward and bit Jack on the mouth and ear. His friend rushed in from the kitchen, and immediately called an ambulance.

Jack underwent plastic surgery on his mouth to reconstruct it, and stitches up the side of his ear.

His recovery took a number of months, but he lost feeling in his lower lip and suffered ongoing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), even giving away his own dog to ease his anxiety months later.

The dog was seized, and Jack’s friend was understandably extremely remorseful. However, Jack’s ongoing psychologist fees for his PTSD and loss of confidence as a result of his facial deformation had severely impacted his quality of life, so he decided to seek some legal advice.

To claim any compensation for the injuries sustained from the dog attack, Jack had to sue his friend. The friend had home and contents insurance; therefore, Jack was effectively claiming compensation from the insurer, not his friend personally. Jack, with the assistance of his lawyer, would have to show that his friend was negligent in his duty of care for Jack’s safety in entering the home, as the incident occurred in his friend’s home and therefore under his control.

Jack’s lawyer assisted him in navigating this complex area of law. The lawyer consulted a psychiatrist, craniofacial surgeon and plastic surgeon to prove the impact of this injury on Jack’s life and what could be done (and the likely costs of such procedures) to improve his life in future. Presenting the case to the insurer, Jack and his lawyer later met with the insurer prior to instigating proceedings in Court. The two parties were able to come to a settlement which gave Jack peace of mind that he would be financially supported into the future for his psychological condition, as well as further facial surgery and income lost during recovery.

As well as past and future medical costs loss of income, compensation usually covers things like pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life as well as home help and attendant care.

A dog bite claim, or any animal assault claim, can be a complicated and lengthy process, so it is important that you speak to a lawyer to understand your rights and how long you have to make a claim. There are also some important steps to take as soon as possible if you have been assaulted by an animal:

What to do if an animal assaults you

  1. Ensure you seek medical treatment. Make sure you give your doctor the full details of the incident.
  2. Report the attack and injury to your local council as soon as you can. If possible, report the incident in writing and keep a copy of the letter or email and any responses received. If the council fills in an incident report form, obtain a copy of this document if you can.
  3. If the attack occurred outside local council hours, you can call your local police station.
  4. Record details of the incident such as:
    • The time of day, the weather and any witnesses’ details that you have obtained.
    • The address of where the injury happened
    • Any details about the relevant council.
    • Photographs of the area, print a copy of them, date them and place an X at the exact location of the fall.
    • The details of the owner of the animal, their address and if possible, their driver’s license number so they can be tracked down if they change address or have given inaccurate details.
  5. Keep records of:
    • Emails, texts or postal mail with anyone involved with the incident.
    • Medical treatment, any time off work and receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses relating to the injury.

Gordon Legal are the team of legal experts specialising in compensation law and helping individuals to claim what they need to rest and recover from an injury they have sustained. If you want advice about whether you may have a claim, contact us on 1300 56 50 16 to talk to one of our expert lawyers today.

*In order to preserve the privacy of our clients we have changed the names of persons involved.