Court Decision Throws Focus On Dangerous Dog Law
A surprise recent court decision has thrown a fresh focus on laws governing dangerous dogs and the need to know details of the law.
The tragic case began at Warren in 2006 when four year old Tyra Kuehn was mauled by at least two dogs – mastiff or boxer cross breeds used for pig hunting. They were kept behind chicken wire but the dogs’ owner found the little girl fatally wounded in his back yard. She died in hospital.
Tyra’s father sued the council. The NSW District Court found Warren Shire Council had failed to use its authority to declare the dogs dangerous even though there had been many complaints to council rangers about the dogs before Tyra was attacked.
Judge Michael Elkaim said the council did not use its powers under the Companion Animal Act to force the owner to keep the “trained hunting machines” in a secure enclosure.
The judge said the council knew the dogs often escaped into the neighbourhood but failed to declare them “dangerous” which would have required the owner to house the dogs in a child-proof enclosure. The judge ordered the council to pay $125,000 in damages to the girl’s family.
The council appealed the decision. Three judges of the NSW Court of Appeal found the council had not been negligent. The judges said the council could not have deemed the dogs “dangerous” just because they’d been trained to hunt and kill pigs.
The council denied having received complaints about the dogs before the girl’s death and said it did not have information sufficient to declare the dogs dangerous.
The appeals judges overturned the $125,000 compensation to the victim’s family and ordered the victim’s family to pay the council’s legal costs.
The case shows the importance of getting good legal advice if you’ve been harmed or threatened by dogs. The way you frame your complaint and to whom you direct your complaint is important.
Owners of dogs that may be declared dangerous should get legal advice on their responsibilities and liabilities and how to keep their dogs safe. Penalties can be up to $55,000 and two years jail.
Tyra’s tragic death prompted the NSW government to tighten dog laws. Council rangers now have the power to decree a dog as dangerous, and all dogs trained to hunt and kill are automatically classed as dangerous. Dangerous dogs that attack or repeatedly escape can be destroyed immediately.
Even tougher laws are on the cards. The father of a boy bitten by a neighbour’s husky has called on the government to introduce a compulsory liability insurance scheme for owners of dangerous dog breeds.