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Should Insurance for Dogs be Mandatory?

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In recent months and years there appears to have been a spike in news reports of serious dog attacks.  Almost inevitably, discussion follows as to whether testing and licenses should be made mandatory for dog owner. 

In my opinion whilst licenses should be mandatory (as, after all, a dog can be a lethal weapon in the wrong hands) licensing does not go far enough: dog owners should also be required to purchase compulsory liability insurance.

As a specialist in dog bite injuries there is nothing more frustrating than advising a client who has suffered injury as a result of a dog bite. While he or she has a good case in law, there is nothing we can do because the Defendant is not insured and does not have the means or money to pay compensation.  It leads to injustice the Claimant has no realistic prospect of recovering compensation; and the dog owner escapes liability through their own lack of foresight and planning.

In my experience of dealing with these claims, there is an unfortunate ‘vicious circle’ which seems to repeat itself time and time again: an irresponsible dog owner owns a breed of dog with natural tendency towards aggression as a status symbol; they are either ambivalent towards training or even actively promote aggressive behaviour in the dog, which then goes on to attack somebody and cause injury.  This stereotypical dog owner almost inevitably does not have insurance to cover the event.

As most people will be aware, drivers and employers are already required by law to have in place an adequate policy of insurance.  There is no reason why a law could not be introduced to require dog owners to have insurance. This could be a requirement of obtaining a dog ownership licence (in my opinion it is the dog owner, not the dog, which should be licensed).  For the vast majority of responsible owners, this would not be a troublesome burden: many dog owners (myself included!) will already have pet insurance; and those that don’t are likely to have home contents insurance which typically covers such events.

Apart from the obvious benefit of injured people being rightly compensated for injuries, there are numerous other knock-on benefits to the license and insurance system:

 

  1. Responsible dog ownership would be directly promoted at assessment and dog attacks, at least in theory, should be reduced.
  2. Responsible dog ownership would be indirectly promoted under threat of the owner losing the license for anti-social behaviour (and thereby potentially having their dog taken from them) .
  3. Responsible dog ownership would be indirectly encouraged as the owner is likely to have a financial stake in any claim through having to pay an insurance excess in the event that their dog causes injury.

 

Let’s hope that the next time the matter is raised, parliament takes notice!