WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU OR YOUR ANIMAL IS ATTACKED BY ANOTHER DOG?
Several people have contacted the Estonian Animal Protection Society because they or their pet animal (e.g. dog or cat) has been attacked by a dog. Therefore, the EAPS prepared this guide material, so that when such an event occurs, people have information on how to behave correctly from a legal point of view. There are several legal remedies. The animal owner can be responsible in terms of civil law and penal law (misdemeanour, criminal liability). Below, the basis for the animal owner responsibility and instructions of what to do are described.
First, every animal owner should read the rules for keeping cats and dogs which are valid in the rural municipality or city they are living in. Namely, more often than not the rules for keeping cats and dogs enforced by the local government include the requirement that, the owner/animal keeper must ensure surveillance over their animal, so that the animals cannot roam on their own or endanger other animals and/or owners must eliminate the possibility that their animal could run off and attack other people and animals. The person (animal owner) breaching the rules for keeping cats and dogs can be punished for the breach if it causes material damage or health damage to a person due to negligence. The punishment can be a fine in the amount up to 200 fine units (i.e. in sum of €800; misdemeanour liability). Thus, if a strange dog attacks you or your animal in a public place or on your territory, the owner of this dog can be prosecuted in terms of misdemeanour liability based on the rules for keeping cats and dogs enforced by the local government, also presuming that material damage or health damage to a person was caused.
However, the victim must immediately contact the respective official of the local government or the police and submit an application. To ensure that the offender is held responsible, the application must include all key details and information: time and place of the event and its exact description, names and other known contact information of the participants (if possible, also the information of the owner of the dog that attacked you or your animal), precise description of the event and if there are any witnesses, then their information as well. Be sure to go to the doctor with your (or animal’s) injuries, both for getting on-time treatment and a doctor’s certificate. The doctor’s certificate is necessary also in future when demanding compensation claims.
Ask for the rules for keeping cats and dogs from the local government (can be found on the webpage of the specific local government) or search from the public legislation database www.riigiteataja.ee.
Another legal remedy for the victim is to file a claim under the Law of Obligations against the person causing the damage (owner of the aggressive dog). As a rule, the damages to be compensated in such events are medical treatment costs, torn clothes and, in case of death of an animal, the monetary value of the animal and non-material damage (e.g. mental burden caused). Pursuant to section 1056 of the Law of Obligations Act, if damage is caused resulting from danger characteristic to a thing constituting a major source of danger or from an extremely dangerous activity, the person who manages the source of danger shall be liable for causing of damage regardless of the person’s culpability. According to section 1060 of the Law of Obligations Act, the keeper of an animal shall be liable for damage caused by the animal (this is also valid if, e.g. an animal attacks another person or an animal, then the owner of the attacking animal must compensate the damages). The liability of animal owner is regulated in the law of obligations as so-called risk liability. In other words, the animal owner, its supervisor (the person responsible for the animal) is obliged to compensate the damages caused by the animal, regardless of whether the person actually did anything wrong or not. It is liability that is independent from guilt and it accompanies more dangerous activities than usual. Thus according to the law, animal keeping is considered an activity that is more dangerous than usual, because animals can be uncontrollable and act unexpectedly. First, the compensation claim should be submitted directly to the animal owner, and if they refuse, you should turn to court. When filing to court, we definitely advise to use a lawyer’s help (so the issue would not remain unprocessed due to the lack of legal knowledge). The Society’s lawyers can help with preparing the claim properly. Here, too, it is important that the application includes all crucial details and information: time and place of the event and its exact description, names and other known contact information of the participants (if possible, also the information of the owner of the dog that attacked you or your animal), precise description of the event and if there are any witnesses, then also their information. Be sure to go to the doctor with your (or animal’s) injuries, both for getting on-time treatment and a doctor’s certificate. To prove all medical and other costs, preserve and collect all the invoices and receipts.
In certain cases, the owner of the dog that attacked you or your animal can be held criminally responsible. Namely, provisions valid for objects are applied also in case of animals. Section 203 of the Penal Code deals with injuring or destroying a thing of another. Injuring or destroying a thing of another, if significant damage is thereby caused, is punishable by criminal liability – a pecuniary punishment or up to five years’ imprisonment. This presumes that considerable damage is caused and all presumptions for criminal liability are present – the act conforms to the description of an offense, intent is identified (incl. indirect intent – the person foresees the occurrence of circumstances which constitute the necessary elements of an offence and tacitly accepts that such circumstance may occur) and there are no circumstances that eliminate the unlawfulness and guilt of the act. Section 205 of the Penal Code deals with injuring or destroying a thing of another which is punishable by a pecuniary punishment or up to five years’ imprisonment, if major damage was caused. Considerable damage is damage that is ten times over the valid wage limit per month and major damage is damage that is a hundred times over the valid wage limit per month (the wage limit in 2012 is €290). In addition, if respective basis exists, the owner of the aggressive animal can be held criminally responsible also for causing a serious health injury to a person or for causing a serious health injury due to negligence.
Thus, there is a civil law and a criminal law basis for defending the victim. The owner of the aggressive animal or another responsible person is always responsible and liability exists also in case of failure to act. Therefore, the animal owner must always consider, that regardless of how careful they are and the safety measures they apply, in terms of civil law, they are always responsible for their animal’s acts (regardless of the unlawfulness of their act or guilt). To receive compensation, the victim must prove the damage caused and its amount. The most important thing here is the detailed description of all circumstances, collection and preservation of necessary evidence (e.g. doctor’s certificates, invoices, receipts and other cost documentation), writing down the information of all participants and witnesses and active work to defend one’s own rights. The prerequisite for punishing a person responsible for an animal in terms of offence (misdemeanour, crime) is an application submitted to the police.
If the animal that was the victim of the attack was unleashed in public, then the owner of this animal can also be held responsible in terms of misdemeanour for breaching the rules for keeping cats and dogs. This means that both the owner of the aggressive dog and the owner of the animal that was the victim may get punished. Thus, it is important to ensure that the animal is always leashed in public and the person responsible for the animal must be able to keep control over the animal’s behaviour. The EAPS stresses, however, that the liability of both animal owners does not prevent the victim from filing a compensation claim against the owner of the aggressive dog (the animal owner is responsible regardless of their guilt) or reduce their criminal liability should respective indicators occur.