Thu | Oct 19, 2017

Legal Scoop | Vicious dog attack in Manor Park! - The Dogs (Liability for Injuries) Act

Published:Sunday | October 23, 2016 | 12:00 AMShena Stubbs
A Pit Bull terrier.

I have a young child. My father has a pit bull, Brittany, which has been in the family for years, and who, according to my father, is harmless as she only attacks other dogs, albeit, sometimes viciously. On Thursday, as I am wont to do, I stopped by my parents' house with my young child. However, before venturing through the gate, I was careful to remove the large umbrella I had in the rear of my car.

Yes, Brittany has never attacked me or my child over the years. Nevertheless, I was taking no chances. I distrust dogs, especially pit bulls, and I was going into that property armed to defend my child if it came to that. If, for whatever reason, Brittany chose that day, that time, to go all mental on my child and me, I was armed with my big umbrella and mentally ready, myself, to take her life, if I had to, to protect my child's life, no apologies to my dad.

Nevertheless, it was another uneventful visit. Brittany did not even make an appearance to see who was coming through the gate and did not appear for my entire visit. Maybe she sensed the big umbrella.

 

Pit bull's attack in Manor Park

 

I guess top of mind in my 'extremeish' behaviour on Thursday was a story I had recently heard of yet another vicious pit bull attack on a child in Jamaica, this time on a four-year-old boy in Manor Park, St Andrew, earlier this year.

According to the child's mother, Aleiya Chin, on the ill-fated morning, she and her two children, ages two and four at the time, had walked by the dogs in question lying in front of a neighbour's open gate, when, seconds later, the dogs attacked her and her children. According to Chin, the dogs literally grabbed her son from her, by his school bag, and started to attack him repeatedly. Fortunately, through assistance from others, the young boy's life was spared. However, he suffered serious injuries, including spinal, as well as seeming damage to his vocal chords.

The single mother is seeking to get further medical assistance for the child in New York, but is asking the public for financial assistance. Persons willing to make donations in this tragic case may do so as follows: Joshua Zhang at Bank of Nova Scotia, account #90365, Liguanea branch, Kingston, Jamaica; or via gofundme at: https://www.gofundme.com/2r6h5r8.

Chin may also be contacted by email at: misschin56@gmail.com (courtesy of the Jamaica Observer, October 9, 2016). I also implore attorneys-at-law to reach out to assist Ms Chin with seeking whatever remedies may be available to her through the courts, even if they have to do the matter on a pro bono or a contingency basis.

 

The Law

 

I have not heard what the owners of the dogs in question have to say in their own defence, and as a result, I will not offer a view on their liability for the young lad's injuries. Nevertheless, it does not seem to be disputed that the child was attacked by dogs and seriously injured. In the event, I will summarise for readers what the laws of Jamaica, in particular, the Dogs (Liability for Injuries) Act (the Act) stipulates in this regard.

 

Civil liability of owners of dogs for injuries done by them.

 

Section 2 of the Act provides that the owner of every dog shall be liable for injury done to any person, or any cattle or sheep, by his dogs, and it shall not be necessary for the party seeking such damages to show a previous mischievous propensity in such dog, or the owner's knowledge of such previous propensity, or that the injury was attributable to neglect on the part of such owner. This is what is called a strict liability offence, the owner is liable for injury inflicted even if he argues that he did not know that his dog(s) had the propensity to be aggressive or violent or that the attack was not caused by any negligence on his part.

 

Owner of dog defined

 

According to Section 3 of the Act, the occupier of any house or premises where any dog was kept, or permitted to live or remain at the time of such injury, shall be deemed to be the owner of such dog, and shall be liable as such. However, an occupier of premises, for instance, a tenant, may escape liability if he can prove that he was not, at the time of the attack, the owner of the dog which perpetuated the attack and that such dog was kept or permitted to live or remain in the said house or premises without his sanction or knowledge.

 

DEFENCES

 

Notwithstanding there being strict liability for dog attacks in Jamaica, there are also defences which may be available to an owner, for instance:

- that the person attacked was trespassing on the owner's premises at the relevant time; or,

- that the person attacked contributed to the attack, for example, by teasing the dog; or

- that the attack resulted from the "act of a stranger", for example, where a stranger released the dog from its chains.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Occupiers of premises on which dogs of any breed live should be very careful to ensure that their dogs are kept on the premises, out of harm's way, to ensure the protection of their neighbours or visitors and reduce the risk of liability to themselves.

My profound sympathies to young Joshua and his family. Readers, do support his return to full health.

- Shena Stubbs is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to: Email: shena.stubbs@gleanerjm.com; Twitter:@shenastubbs