Can I claim if I am bitten by a dog at work?

In this case study we deal with the frquently asked question: 'Can I claim if I am bitten by a dog at work?'

If you are bitten by a dog at work then you will need to consider whether the compensation claim should be brought against  the dog's owner or your employer. There are clear advantages to making a claim against an employer, primarily because they are more likley to have adequate insurance cover than many dog owners. So when we are dealing with a case for someone bitten by a dog at work we always look at whether the employer is legally responsible for what happened.

In this case our client was employed by Housing Association Bolton at Home as an Antisocial Behaviour Housing Officer. During the course of her duties she sustained a nasty dog bite to the ring, middle and little fingers of her left hand, as she posted a “missed call” card through a tenant’s letter-box.

The risk of injury from a dog bite in these circumstances was clearly foreseeable. However, the visits were poorly organised and not subject to any risk assessment.  Bolton at Home failed to provide their employee with a safe system of work, instruction or training as regards the risk of dog attacks during “cold-calling” and (specifically) those associated with the posting of letters to tenanted properties.

Investigations during the course of the claim had shown that in the two year period prior to our client's injury there were twelve recorded incidents of employees being bitten by a dog at work, while visiting tenants' properties. More significantly, no less than four of these injuries were sustained through dog bites to fingers when employees posted letters through a letter box. despite this there was no system for categorisation, assessment or response to any of these dog bites until after the incident involving our client.

The only risk assessment of any relevance was a “lone working general risk assessment form”. This simply identified the risk of an animal attack leading to “physical harm/infection”; and with the only identified control measure being “Request any dogs to be removed from the room whilst visit taking place”.

This risk assessment failed entirely to address the obvious risk of a dog attack on approach or entry to the property itself and it failed to give employees the simple warning that:

(a) there had been four recorded dog attack injuries to fingers during posting of letters in the preceding 2 years; and

(b) employees should avoid inserting any part of their hand/fingers into a letterbox during posting.

The Housing Association as our client's employer and their insurers failed to accept that they were obliged to compensate an employee bitten by a dog at work. We therefore commenced court proceedings and went to trial, working on a no win, no fee basis..

At trial the Court heard evidence from our client and from two witnesses employed by Bolton at Home. The District Judge agreed with us that Bolton at Home's system for recording and assessing previous incidents (including the four finger injuries whilst posting) was inadequate. They admitted that they did not investigate or respond to incidents which were not "RIDDOR" reportable.

Not only did the logic of this approach mean that (for example) a near fatal accident resulting in no injury would not be investigated, but that in our client's case they had failed to take reasonable steps to protect her and other emplyees against this known and easily avoidable risk.It was also agreed in evidence that Bolton at Home's employees now use pens to push letters through letterboxes where necessary. Furthermore the District Judge accepted that simple advice to employees about the risk and the occurrence of previous incidents would have avoided this one.

Our client was therefore successful in suing her employer for being bitten at work by a dog.

Her solicitor James McNally, one of the country's leading dog bite claim lawyers, says:

"While the most straightforward option would be to pursue the claim against the dog owner this wasn't a possibility because they did not have insurance. However the more we looked into the circumstances of the incident the more it became apparent that there had been a serious failing on the part of Bolton at Home. It was unfortunate that it took the time and expense of a trial to bring matters to a conclusion, but the court's decision showed that our concerns were justified."

Our client was obviously very happy with the outcome saying:

"Winning the case was a fantastic result and served to show other people that employers, should not be allowed to walk all over their staff."

If you are wondering: 'Can I claim if I am bitten by a dog at work?' then contact James McNally on our dedicated dog bite helpline 0808 139 1601. Alternatively you can email him at james.mcnally@sleeblackwell.co.uk

Bitten by a dog at work
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