Wed | Aug 5, 2020

Cedric Stephens | Time to start considering dog-injury insurance

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2020 | 12:20 AM

ADVISORY COLUMN: RISKS & INSURANCE

Dog bites were one of the risks discussed during the first three months of this column’s life, nearly 23 years ago. What most stands out about it now is not the article’s content, but its headline: 'Protecting the Public from Dog Bites'.

With the recent tabling of a bill in Parliament by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck to repeal the Dogs (Liabilities for Injuries By) Act of 1897, to paraphrase the Gospel of Matthew, these things appear to have come to pass.

Registerned Nurse Marilyn Duff, PhD, in her December 4, 1997, letter to the editor, possibly a response to my piece, wrote that dog bites represented four per cent of the trauma cases treated at the Accident & Emergency Unit of the University Hospital of the West Indies. She thought that this percentage ranked “very high” when compared to those of other countries even though her numbers were limited to one of the island’s public hospitals.

Two decades after that letter, I wrote about dog bites again. “When Marauding Animals Attack, the Law can Bite Back” was published after the death of Whittingham Cole. He suffered injuries by pit bulls while walking in Hampton Green, St Catherine.

The article ended with the following comments: “We should continue the process to update our laws and enforce common-sense regulations to protect members of the society. Solving problems like these seldom resides solely with the authorities.”

This is the history and context behind today’s comments about the bill. The proposed legislation will repeal the Dogs (Liability for Injuries By) Act and replace it with legislation that:

• Imposes a statutory duty on the owner of a dog (defined to include any person responsible for a dog) to exercise management and control of the dog so that it does not cause injury to an individual in a public place;

• Provides for civil liability in respect of injury caused by a dog and criminal liability where an individual is attacked by a dog, along with the appropriate penalties;

• Provides for a procedure for reporting attacks by dogs and empowers constables to investigate, and, in appropriate circumstances, issue a warning instead of proceeding to the criminal charge.

The head of UWI’s Department of Sociology, Dr Orville Taylor, says that dogs kill approximately 30,000 persons around the world each year. That figure compares with 10 for wolves, 500 for hippos and elephants, and 1,000 for crocodiles. Significantly, he did not indicate how many persons are killed or injured in Jamaica by dogs each year. When the law is passed by Parliament, that data may become available over time.

One key part of the bill is that it imposes a duty on the owner of a dog to ensure that “at all times while the dog is in a public place”, it is kept under control; is fitted with a muzzle that prevents it from biting any individual; and fitted with a restraint (such as a secured leash attached to a collar or harness) or contained in a receptacle that allows the movements of the dog to be kept under control and prevents the dog from biting or presenting a menace to any individual.

“The owner of a dog shall not permit the dog to enter any public place at which a notice prohibiting entry by dogs is prominently displayed unless the dog: (a) is being used, by the occupier, to secure the place; (b) is being used for a lawful purpose by a constable or other agent of the Government; or (c) is guiding a ‘person with a disability’ as that term is defined in the Disabilities Act,” the bill states.

Another important part of the proposed law concerns dog owners who fail to comply. The bill proposes fines ranging from $500,000 to $3 million or imprisonment from six months to 15 years. Civil liability can be incurred if the dog causes injury in any place other than its home or where it is normally kept. This means that if the dog bites someone or damages their property, the dog owner can end up being legally responsible for paying the other person’s losses.

The bill defines a dog owner as the person who occupies premises where a dog is kept; has custody and care of the dog when the injury occurred; or who caused the dog to be in the public place where the injury occurred.

Some dog breeds are more prone to cause injury than others. America’s five most dangerous breeds involved in fatal attacks on humans between 2005 and 2017 were, in descending order, pitt bull, rottweiler, German shepherd, mixed breed, and American bulldog.

Trinidad’s Dog Control Act 2014 makes a distinction between Class A and Class B dogs. Members of the first group are regarded as displaying dangerous behaviour while the latter are considered as posing lesser risks.

Fines and other penalties are imposed in relation to Class A animals. Their owners are required by law to carry third-party liability insurance of not less than TT$250,000 ($5.5 million).

Third-Party Liability Insurance, TPLI, to protect dog owners is generally sold as part of household insurance. It is not offered as a stand-alone product. Many consumers do not buy household insurance.

It will be most interesting to see how our lawmakers and members of the insurance fraternity handle the matter of compulsory TPLI for Jamaican dog owners in light of their experiences with non-compliance with the Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third-Party Risks) Act.

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to aegis@flowja.com.