Dog Bite Claims

30 April 2019 – By Taylor Burls & Reinhardt Nel

Dog bite claims

Dogs are a man’s best friend.  However, we forget that they too can become aggressive and unpredictably turn against people as they are animals after all.  Unfortunately, the victims who suffer the most from dog attacks are children according to the World Health Organisation, which is an alarming.

The most popular dog breeds to attack a person is any dog whose main aim is to guard and protect, for example pit-bulls, rottweilers and boerboels.  Interestingly enough small breeds like that of a Chihuahua are also dangerous especially when it comes to children.

It is important for dog owners to note that apart from any civil action that might be instituted against them for damages suffered by a dog attack victim, there might be criminal implications as well. The Animal Matters Amendment Act, 1993 provides if a person is negligent in terms of their dog attacking a person the owner of the dog will be liable and could either pay a fine or even be imprisoned for a period not more than two years.  The court may make an order regarding the removal, custody, disproval or even destruction of the animal.

Typically, in law of delict, a person who caused damage can only be held liable if the element of fault was present during the act (either negligence or intent). However strict liability entails that a person may be held liable without fault being present. The actio de pauperie is a form of strict liability accepted in South African law and is relevant when damages are caused by domesticated animals.

There are 4 primary requirements for the actio de pauperie to be applicable were dog bite victims are concerned:

  1. The defendant must be the owner of the domesticated animal that has caused the damage.
  2. It must be a domesticated animal.
  3. The animal should have acted contrary to its normal nature.
  4. The victim’s presence at the location where the incident took place must be lawful.

For victims on the other hand it is import to take into account the following circumstances, which might have a substantial influence on your claim:

  1. Whether or not the animal was provoked to attack.
  2. Whether the victim was trespassing.
  3. Whether the victim was warned of danger but chose to act in contrast with the warning.

And for those who wish not to become a victim, here are some handy tips to avoid dog bites:

  1. Do not make any eye contact with a dog as this signals the dog to act aggressively.
  2. Never run up to a dog, approach the dog carefully and slowly.
  3. Do not shout when a dog is close to you.
  4. Running away from a dog will most likely cause the dog to run after you as their hunting instinct kicks in.
  5. When children are playing with dogs never leave them unattended.
  6. Teach your child to be respectful towards the dog and to not put their faces close to the dog’s face.



  2. Dog owners beware: Strict liability for dog attacks (Kristen Wagner) (Accessed 26 April 2019)