A recent judgement by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) may have major implications for the rights and responsibilities of dog owners across South Africa. The judgement was handed down on Friday, September 11 and pertained to a gardener and refuse collector who was attacked by three dogs in the street in 2017.
Gerald Cloete sustained serious injuries as a result of the incident and lost his left arm. He maintains that he did not do anything to provoke the dogs, and was lawfully present on a public road when the attack happened. The owners of the dogs were not home at the time of the attack and denied liability.
The owners maintain that the dogs were secured within the property via a gate, and theorise that an intruder may have gained access by breaking the two padlocks keeping it closed. This may be an explanation as to why the gate was left open and the dogs were able to escape.
Cloete sought out R2.4-million in damages for the incident, which left him handicapped. The victim’s claim was made based on a principal of Roman Law, which is called the “actio de pauperie“. This law stipulates that the owner of a domesticated animal is strictly held liable for the harm caused by the said animal.
Under this action, the injured party does not have to prove negligence on their own part and can claim damages without having to prove fault.
During the ruling, the SCA said that there are three recognised defences to such a claim, and these include:
– That the injured party was in a place where they had no right to be
– The animal was provoked either by the injured party or a third party
– That custody and control of the animal has passed to a third party who negligently failed to prevent the animal from causing the harm
However, the owners failed to prove that the incident was not their fault, the court found. The SCA dismissed the dog owner’s appeal and ruled that he is liable to compensate Cloete up to R2.3-million in damages.
“If anything, with the growth of urban living, the vastly increased number of pet animals, especially dogs, in our towns and cities and the opportunities for harm that they pose, that view of where the interests of justice lie has been strengthened,” the court said during the ruling.
“Animals can cause harm to people and property in various ways. When they do so and the victim of their actions is innocent of fault for the harm they have caused, the interests of justice require that … it is the owner who should be held liable for that harm.
“People are entitled to walk our streets without having to fear being attacked by dogs and, where such attacks occur, they should in most circumstances be able to look to the owner of the dog for recompense.”
Read the full ruling here: SCA-ruling