Written by Sam Seaford, Associate Solicitor, Personal Injury Department.
I acted for a client who at the time of the incident was delivering charity clothing bags to a residential street. As he was posting one of the bags through a letterbox a large dog savaged the middle finger on his right hand. He was able to get his hand back from the letterbox but it was bleeding profusely. An ambulance was called but thankfully there was no lasting damage but for a large scar.
This is quite literally a textbook case. The kind of case you used to get when back at law school as an example for the class to ‘discuss’. It’s a case where my client (the Claimant) and the dog owner (the Defendant) will have clear arguments about who was at fault and really could go either way.
Much really boils down to a personal view as to who you think might be responsible. What do you think? Should the Defendant be responsible for the dog biting my client? After all, it is a private residence and you would not expect a dog to be muzzled indoors? What about my client, surely he has a right to go about his work without fear of having his finger half bitten off?
Now, a lot of legal issues flair up over these kinds of issues; Animals Act, Occupiers Liability, Trespassing laws… the list is endless. Whilst I do love a trawl through the statute book, often I prefer to look at what was reasonable and fair overall.
There were no “beware of the dog signs” or anything warning a person approaching the property that there was a dog inside. The dog was large and it did not bark to warn of its presence. It clearly had access right up to the front door.
In my view, there were a few simple things the dog owner could have done to prevent this accident from happening. Such as putting up a warning sign, keeping the dog away from the hall or front door or simply putting a small guard on the inside of the door covering the letter box. Any of these steps were not difficult to put in place and given the Defendant owned a large and potentially dangerous dog the onus has to be on the dog owner to make sure visitors to the property are reasonably safe.
Of course there were arguments from the Defendant to consider. My client should have been much more careful and should not have put his hand through the door. To do so was a risk that he took on and he was the ‘author of his own misfortune’ to use the classic Defendant phrase.
Firstly, I would like to stress that the dog and property were insured so no one was personally sued over this incident. I am pleased to say that my client was successful with his claim. The Defendant accepted my argument that nothing was done by the dog owner to prevent this incident from happening. However, I should stress that had the dog owner done any of the things I mentioned above it would likely have been a very different story!
The Defendant accepted my offer and everyone seemed happy with the result, apart from Tia (the dog) who is now probably banned from being near the front door.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY?
If you have a dog, make sure it can’t get at people through the letter box and if you’re delivering anything to a house, don’t put your fingers through the hole as a dog may think you’re delivering sausages!
For more information on this or any other related issues contact Our Specialist Personal Injury Lawyers on 01908 692769.