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  Legalwise Wiseup  
     
  September 2017  
     
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What did the judge say? Actual cases
If a person's pet, like a dog, injures another person, can the injured person claim damages from the owner of the pet?

What’s New? The new Membership Agreement covers problems caused by pets.

AH obo RH and another v Gungapursat

Facts of the case:

> Mrs Hattingh, her husband and their three year old son, Ronnie*, lived in unit 30 of the security complex, Aquarius (“complex”).

> While Ronnie was riding his bicycle in the street in front of their unit, a dog attacked Ronnie (“incident”) and bit his leg. Mrs Hatting was supervising Ronnie at the time, but the incident happened when she looked away for a moment. Immediately after the incident, the dog jumped over the wall back into the yard of unit 34.

> The dog belonged to, or was under the control of, Mr Gungapursat and his fiancée, Ms Chetty, who lived in unit 34 of the complex.

> After the incident, Mr Gungapursat approached a neighbour to find out how Ronnie was doing, he also left an apologetic note on Mrs Hattingh's gate.

> Before the incident, Mr Gungapursat received a notice from the body corporate of the complex informing him of a few complaints they received about the dog; that in terms of the complex's conduct rules, he did not have consent to keep the dog in the complex; and that he should remove the dog from the complex. Some of the complaints were:

  • Residents were scared of the dog because of its continuous barking.
  • The dog barks whenever it sees or hears someone.
  • The dog attempted to jump over the wall on more than one occasion.

> Mrs Hattingh approached the court to claim damages from Mr Gungapursat for:

  • costs relating to Ronnie's injuries and psychological damage (shock and trauma) suffered;
  • loss of income for herself, as she had to stay home and care for Ronnie; and
  • his negligence in failing to control the dog.

> Mr Gungapursat denied the claims against him and said that:

  • Ms Chetty is the owner of the dog;
  • the dog was well-behaved and did not act different than any normal pet; and
  • Mrs Hattingh was negligent (“contributory negligent”) as she did not supervise Ronnie properly and Ronnie teased the dog, which aggravated it.

What the court said:

> Generally, the owner of a pet is liable for any damage caused by his/her pet. However, the person claiming damages must prove who the owner of the pet is; that the pet is domesticated; that the pet acted different than a normal pet; and that the damage suffered by him/her was caused by the pet. One of the defences an owner of a pet may rely on is that the pet was provoked by something or someone.

> After listening to the evidence presented by Mr Gungapursat, the court found that Mr Gungapursat was a bad witness and not very truthful.

> The court also found that:

  • Mr Gungapursat could not prove that Ms Chetty was the owner of the dog:
    • Ms Chetty was not called as a witness to confirm that she is the owner of the dog.
    • Ms Chetty did not take any action after receiving the notice from the body corporate to remove the dog from the complex, nor when the incident with Ronnie occurred. Mr Gungapursat did.
    • Mr Gungapursat lived with Ms Chetty in unit 34 and was, as a result, in control of the dog.
  • Mr Gungapursat could not prove that the dog was well behaved and acted like a normal pet:
    • The notice of the body corporate informed Mr Gungapursat that some of the residents of the complex were scared of the dog, and worried that the dog might jump over the wall.
    • Mr Gungapursat admitted that the dog became aggressive when he saw someone walking in the road and they tied the dog up when they went away.
  • Mr Gungapursat could not prove that he did not know the dog can jump over the wall:
    • The dog was able to put its paws over the wall to watch the road.
    • A reasonable person would have known that the dog can jump over the wall.
    • After the incident occurred, the dog jumped over the wall back into the yard of unit 34.
    • Mr Gungapursat could not prove that Ronnie teased and aggravated the dog, nor that other kids in the complex caused the dog to bark.

> The court held that:

  • Mr Gungapursat was the owner or co-owner of the dog.
  • Mr Gungapursat knew that the dog was dangerous and likely to bite strangers, thus acting differently than a normal pet.
  • Mr Gungapursat knew or should have known that the dog can jump over the wall.
  • Mrs Hattingh and Ronnie were not contributory negligent.

Conclusion:

> The court concluded that Mr Gungapursat was negligent in keeping the dog in the complex, despite being notified to remove it, and/or by doing nothing to ensure that the dog cannot get out of his unit. Mr Gungapursat failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the incident from happening.

> The court ordered that Mr Gungapursat is liable for payment of the damages caused as a result of the dog biting Ronnie.

> In light of the above, the owner of a pet should take reasonable steps to prevent his/her pet from causing damage to others. *Kindly note that Ronnie is a fictional name to protect his real identity.

LegalWise may assist a person in claiming damages caused by another person's pet. LegalWise may also assist a person in defending a claim for damages caused by his/her pet. This is subject to the terms and conditions set out in the LegalWise Membership Agreement.

How can LegalWise assist you? Should you require an explanation of your rights on this topic, please contact your nearest Branch.

 
     
     
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New Premiums & Insurance Benefits
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What did the judge say? Actual cases
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