Dog victim loses £500,000 award

Posted: 4th February 2014

RCJA young man who was awarded almost £500,000 after he was chased under a car by a snapping dog has been stripped of the payout by the Court of Appeal.

The victim was aged 14 when the accident happened in 2002. He instinctively swerved under a car as the small dog cannoned out of a neighbour's garden and began barking and snapping at his heels as he rode his bicycle home along a quiet residential street. Hospitalised for four months, he suffered devastating brain damage in the accident.

The dog had a history of frightening passers-by with its aggressive barking and, although it had never bitten anybody, its owner knew that it would do its best to escape from her garden. The police had considered prosecuting her under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, for having a dog dangerously out of control in a public place, but the case against her was dropped after she gave up ownership of the dog.

The boy's application for compensation was initially rejected by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) on the basis that he could not be viewed as a victim of a crime of violence. However, that decision was later reversed by the First-tier Tribunal (FTT), which awarded him £499,155.51, just short of the maximum available of £500,000. That decision was subsequently upheld by the Upper Tribunal.

In allowing CICA’s appeal, however, the Court pointed out that an offence under the Act 'may be committed without any violence on the part of the owner or even on the part of the dog’ and found that the boy's injuries 'were not directly attributable to a crime of violence'.

Observing that an offence does not become a crime of violence merely because the victim suffers injury, the Court noted that the dog had not deliberately been allowed out onto the street and that the evidence was that its owner had been 'negligent at worst in failing to prevent its escape'.

Whilst accepting that, on the undisputed facts, all the elements of an offence under the Act had been made out, the Court found that, in making the award, the FTT had wrongly 'concentrated on the consequences of the crime rather than its essential nature'.

Lord Justice Moore-Bick concluded, "I find it difficult to accept that negligently to allow a dog to escape, even a dog known to be aggressive, constituted a crime of violence, giving that expression its ordinary meaning...the fact that the dog was known to be aggressive clearly weighed with both tribunals, but I do not think it is sufficient to enable the offence to be characterised as a crime of violence, any more than would be the case of an unfenced machine known to be dangerous."