The American XL Bully is the latest dog breed to attract widespread media attention after reported maulings and attacks by the breed. In 2022, the XL bully breed was implicated in six out of the 10 lethal dog assaults that occurred in the UK, and has already been associated with a minimum of two deaths this year. The UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has spoken of his government’s intention to ban the breed by the end of the year. In this blog, we look at claims for personal injury which may arise from attacks by dangerous dogs.
What is a dangerous dog?
In the UK, the term “dangerous dog” generally refers to any dog that poses a threat to people, other animals, or property. Dangerous dogs are defined by the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which has been amended several times since its original enactment. Under this act, it is illegal to own, breed, sell, or give away certain types of dogs identified as “dangerously out of control”.
The dog breeds/types specifically prohibited under this act are:
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Brasileiro
The law also includes a general clause about dogs that are dangerously out of control, meaning any dog that injures a person or behaves in a way that makes a person worried it might injure them can be considered a “dangerous dog”.
What is the difference between a dog type and a dog breed?
The term “type” is a more expansive concept compared to ‘breed”. Courts have the jurisdiction to determine that a dog belongs to the “pit bull terrier type” as outlined in section 1 of Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991.
This allows for a criminal charge if the dog is present in a public space without a muzzle, provided its traits largely align with the criteria established by the American Dog Breeders Association (ABDA), despite not fulfilling every criterion entirely (refer to cases R v Crown Court at Knightsbridge ex parte Dunne; Brock v Director of Public Prosecutions  4 All ER 491).
Ownership of dangerous dogs
Following the the 1991 Act, amendments have been made permitting legal ownership if a court, upon applying the mandated assessment, decides the banned dog does not pose a risk to public safety.
To qualify for this exemption, it is essential to satisfy three preliminary conditions:
- the dog must be neutered
- implanted with a microchip, and
- insured by a third-party
Furthermore, several requirements of the Dangerous Dogs Exemption Schemes (England and Wales) Order 2015, must be upheld. These stipulations include that:
- the dog resides at the declared address
- any intended address change is communicated to the designated agency, and
- when in public spaces, the dog is leashed and muzzled
This Order, effective from 3 March 2015, substitutes The Dangerous Dogs Compensation and Exemption Schemes Order 1991, pertaining exclusively to England and Wales.
What injuries may be sustained from dog bites?
Dog bites can cause a range of injuries, varying in severity from minor to fatal.
Here are some of the injuries that may occur:
• Punctures and lacerations: these are probably the most common injuries, where the dog’s teeth puncture or tear the skin.
• Bruises and abrasions: injuries such as bruises, scrapes, or minor cuts can occur from a dog’s teeth or claws.
• Crush injuries: depending on the size and strength of the dog, it might inflict crush injuries, particularly to smaller limbs or in attacks on children.
• Fractures: in severe cases, a dog attack can cause bone fractures, particularly if the person falls or is knocked over during the attack.
• Facial injuries: dog bites can often result in injuries to the face, including damage to the eyes, ears, nose, and cheeks.
• Nerve damage: severe dog bites can cause nerve damage, affecting motor and sensory functions in the affected areas.
• Infections: dog bites can introduce bacteria into the wound, potentially leading to infections such as cellulitis or more severe infections like sepsis if not properly treated.
• Scarring and disfigurement: dog bites can leave permanent scars or disfigurement, especially if the bites are deep or occur on visible areas like the face.
• Psychological trauma: beyond physical injuries, dog bite victims may experience significant psychological trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and fear of dogs.
• Fatal injuries: in extreme cases, dog attacks can result in fatal injuries, particularly if vital areas such as the neck or head are severely damaged.
• Rabies: in rare cases, if the dog is carrying the rabies virus, it can transmit this fatal disease through bites.
Expert witnesses in dog bite personal injury claims
Dog bite personal injury claims may require the use of one or more expert witnesses, including veterinarian expert witnesses, plastic surgeon expert witnesses, accident and emergency medicine expert witnesses, paramedic expert witnesses, ENT surgeon expert witnesses, orthopaedic expert witnesses, oral and maxillofacial expert witnesses, ophthalmologist expert witnesses, psychiatric expert witnesses, and psychological expert witnesses.
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