Time For Urgent Action To Tackle Dog Attack ‘Epidemic’

Lawyers Contacted ‘More Than Three Times A Week’ Over Problems

12.09.2013

By Rob Dixon

Legal specialists contacted for help by a growing number of people who have been injured in dog attacks across the UK have warned the issue has reached ‘epidemic’ levels and are calling on the Government to take urgent, comprehensive steps to address the problem once and for all.

Experts at Irwin Mitchell have seen a dramatic increase in the number of enquiries they have received regarding dog attacks in recent months and were contacted for advice by 14 people in June alone. The increase has come following a number of high-profile attacks on vulnerable people in the past four months, including:

  • March – 14-year-old Jade Anderson killed in a dog attack at a house in Atherton
  • April – a 16-month-old baby was injured after being bitten by a dog at a house in Bootle
  • May  –  79-year-old Liverpool man Clifford Clarke died after being mauled in a dog attack
  • June – a 14-year-old girl left needing stitches after an attack in a play area in Staddon Gardens, Torquay
  • August – a 13-year-old was injured after being attacked by a dog at a house in Bradford

Now, the national law firm is calling on the Government to bring forward plans set to be introduced in 2016, but also consider further measures to improve protection for members of the public, hold irresponsible owners to account and ensure victims of attacks can get the justice they deserve.

David Urpeth, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell who specialises in dog bite claims, said: “The rise in the number of calls we have had regarding dog attacks, twinned with a number of major cases in the media, shows this is an issue of epidemic proportions and something that desperately needs to be addressed.

“The terrible consequences of these attacks cannot be underestimated, whether it involves a family losing a loved one or a person who has suffered serious physical or psychological trauma after being attacked.

“The Government has not been blind to the growing number of incidents in recent years and is introducing measures such as the compulsory microchipping of all puppies, the closure of a loophole which will mean owners can be prosecuted over dog attacks on private property and consulting on new sentencing measures for owners.

“However, we continue to have doubts over whether these measures are adequate or are being introduced soon enough. There are still around three years to go until they come into force – yet the terrible tragedies and injuries of recent months have shown that action to tackle the dangers of these attacks is very much needed now.”

Explaining his concerns over the adequacy of the upcoming measures, David explained: “It is undeniable that microchipping dogs will improve matters in terms of identification of animals and their owners, while the closure of the loophole concerning private property is very important.

“However, we remain very worried that current legislation does little to ensure that owners are not only held to account, but victims of such attacks get the justice.

“We have repeatedly stated that compulsory licensing and insurance for dog owners would be important steps towards ensuring those with dogs understand their responsibilities.

“The latter would also ensure that victims seriously injured in such attacks have the chance to access vital funds which will support them during their recovery and rehabilitation – something which does emerge as an issue in some of the cases we are involved in. Shockingly, this reasonable idea seems to have been ignored completely.

“Time is of the essence to ensure that dog attacks cannot only be prevented but also that owners are held to account when people have been involved in such incidents. Enough is simply enough on this issue and action is clearly needed to reduce the number of lives being affected by this problem.”

CASE STUDY

Among the clients that Irwin Mitchell represents in relation to dog attacks is Caroline Lyness, from Trellech in Monmouthshire, who suffered serious leg injuries when she was bitten by her neighbour’s German Shepherd in September last year.

The local government officer recalls: “It was one of the most horrendous experiences of my life. I was walking home and was going past my neighbour’s drive when the dog and its fully grown pups ran down to me together and started barking. The owner was nowhere to be seen and didn’t offer any help when he did.

“I was bitten twice on my left thigh by the adult but fortunately managed to get away before more damage could be done. The injuries were so severe I went to A & E at Neville Hall Hospital and had to attend our local GP surgery every three days to have the wounds cleaned and dressed. It was just awful.”

Following a criminal trial into the incident three months ago, it was ruled that the dog involved should be destroyed while the owner was fined after pleading guilty to allowing the animal to be dangerous and out of control.

However, Caroline has been unable to gain justice over the incident as the defendant does not have any financial assets or insurance which would allow her to gain compensation for her physical and psychological injuries.

Caroline said: “It has been difficult for me to get on with my life following the attack – we no longer walk down our drive as the memories of the incident remain so fresh and vivid. I’m also terrified whenever I see or hear dogs.

“Despite the impact this has had on me, the fact that current legislation means I cannot gain justice over this makes me feel as if my voice has not been heard.

“I am happy that steps are being taken to address some of the issues around this, but am shocked that compulsory insurance for owners has not been considered in all of this.

“All of the measures seem so focused on holding irresponsible owners to account that the impact attacks have on victims and their need for support seem to have just been ignored. This is not good enough and more must be done.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in relation to Dog Bite Claims