Dog Bite Claims: Understanding The Ins And Outs In South Africa


Finding a dog in someone’s home is relatively common, as dogs are excellent companions and fierce protectors. This fierce protection sometimes results in a dog biting a human, and in many cases, this can result in a dog bite claim. Whether a dog has bitten you and you want to claim compensation, or you’re a dog owner concerned about potential legal action, you should know and understand your rights.

As a person who has been bitten by a dog, it’s essential to know that South African law holds dog owners responsible for their pet’s actions. Specifically, under the Animal Matters Amendment Act, if a dog owner’s negligence leads to their dog injuring someone, they can face criminal liability.

Owning a guard dog in South Africa is a common choice due to high crime rates. However, with the rise in dog attacks, understanding who you could hold liable for a dog bite claim, the necessary evidence, and potential compensation becomes crucial for victims seeking justice. On the other hand, understanding these aspects is also vital for the dog owner to combat or appreciate the charges against them and their dog.


Can You Claim Damages If A Dog Bites You?

The answer is yes; you can claim damages for a dog bite in South Africa. The law recognizes that victims of dog attacks are entitled to compensation for their injuries and related expenses. This compensation typically falls under the legal category of personal injury claims.


Who Is Liable For A Dog Bite Claim In South Africa?

The legal foundation for liability in a dog bite claim is rooted in the concept of actio de pauperie. This Latin term signifies strict liability, meaning that dog owners can be held answerable for their dog’s actions without the need to prove negligence or intent.

The key criterion for establishing liability under actio de pauperie is whether the dog acted against its natural behaviour. Suppose the dog, considered a domestic animal, behaves in a manner contrary to its inherent nature due to inward excitement or vice. In that case, the owner bears sole responsibility for any ensuing damage.

However, a crucial factor is the legality of the victim’s presence at the location of the incident. If the person who was bitten was lawfully present in the area where the attack occurred, the dog owner could be held liable for damages. This concept holds even in cases where there is no evidence of owner negligence or intent.

In summary, the claim must meet several conditions successfully to utilize actio de pauperie. These include the following:

  • The defendant must own the dog when the damage was inflicted.
  • The animal must have acted contrary to its nature due to an internal stimulus and not in response to provocation by someone.
  • The claimant’s presence at the location where the damage took place must be lawful.


These requirements determine whether liability is established under actio de pauperie. In some instances, criminal liability can also come into play. The Animal Matters Amendment Act 42 of 1993 outlines that dog owners can face criminal charges if their negligence leads to their dog injuring someone. The penalties may range from fines to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the incident.


What Can You Sue For In A Dog Bite Claim?

When heading into a dog bite claim, ensuring you understand what kind of compensation you can sue for is always a good idea. There are various damages you could claim for, including:

  • Medical expenses: This covers the costs of immediate treatment and any ongoing medical care required.
  • Lost income: If the dog bite caused you to miss work, you can claim compensation for your lost wages.
  • Pain and suffering: This accounts for the physical and emotional distress experienced.
  • Scarring and disfigurement: If the bite resulted in permanent scarring or disfigurement, you can seek damages for these long-term effects.


What Defences Can A Dog Owner Use In A Dog Bite Claim?

As a dog owner, you may feel like you and your dog are being unjustly treated. In these instances, you could attempt several defences when facing a dog bite claim, such as arguing that:

  • The victim provoked the dog.
  • The victim was trespassing on your property.
  • The dog was protecting you from a perceived threat.


While you can raise these defences, they may not necessarily absolve you of all liability.


Is There A Time Limit For Dog Bite Claims?

In South Africa, dog bite claims are subject to a time limit known as the prescription period. Generally, you have three years from the date of the incident to file a claim. It’s crucial to initiate the legal process promptly to protect your rights.


How Can You Claim Compensation For A Dog Bite?

If you feel like it is in your legal right to claim compensation for your dog bite, you can follow these steps:

  • Seek immediate medical attention.
  • Take photos of your injuries to document the incident.
  • Report the incident to the local authorities if necessary.
  • Consult with a personal injury attorney who has experience with dog bite cases.
  • Your attorney can help you gather evidence to file a claim and negotiate with the dog owner or their insurance company.
  • If you cannot settle, your case may go to court.


How Can A Dog Owner Prevent Dog Bites From Occurring?

As a responsible dog owner, there are several steps you could take to reduce the risk of dog bites. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • From a young age, properly train and socialize your dog.
  • Always obey leash laws and use a leash in public spaces.
  • Supervise your dog when around unfamiliar people or other animals.
  • Place warning signs on your property if your dog has a history of aggression.


If you find yourself dealing with a dog bite claim in South Africa, it’s crucial to understand your rights and the legal concept of actio de pauperie. Seek legal advice to help ensure you receive fair compensation for your injuries. And if you’re a dog owner, taking proactive measures to prevent dog bites is not only responsible but can also help avoid legal troubles down the road.

Our Burnett Attorneys & Notaries team would gladly assist you in this endeavour. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you require legal assistance or have any questions you would like answered.