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Biting dogs

Some legal principles escape from the courts and enter the popular culture. “€œEvery dog gets (is entitled to) one bite” is such a “€œprinciple”, albeit now mistaken, if it was ever true.

It arose because of the dubious division, in law, between “wild animals” and “€œdomestic animals” for the purpose of finding liability for injuries caused by animals. The Law Reform Commission, in “€œCivil Liability for Animals” remarked that

In scienter the distinction between wild and domestic animals is artificial, is not to be found in nature, and in terms of danger, does not correspond to the experience of professional animal keepers. For example, the keeper of Dublin Zoo expressed the opinion that all animals should be considered dangerous and declared that even rabbits can at certain times bite and be aggressive. Bord na gCapall expressed the view that care was always needed in handling horses (domestic animals) and that “all animals should be treated as ‘wild animals’â€?

The false distinction led to a requirement on the Plaintiff, in the absence of other indications of liability, in actions arising from injury or damage caused by “domesticatedâ€? animals, such as dogs, to show that the owner/Defendant knew of the mischievous propensity of the dog, or whatever, to injure persons [by biting, say].

In relation to dogs, in Ireland the position has been partially settled by Section 21 of the Control of Dogs Act 1986. The owner of a dog is strictly liable for the injuries caused by any dog attack on a person or livestock.

21. €”(1) The owner of a dog shall be liable in damages for damage caused in an attack on any person by the dog and for injury done by it to any livestock; and it shall not be necessary for the person seeking such damages to show a previous mischievous propensity in the dog, or the owner’s knowledge of such previous propensity, or to show that such injury or damage was attributable to neglect on the part of the owner.

Perversely, livestock are more protected by this provision; it only applies in the case of a person if the dog attacks, but the livestock are protected regardless of the mode of damage.