What can I do if I'm attacked by a police dog? Specialist dog bite solicitor James McNally has been interviewd by a national newspaper following an incident where a 17 year old girl was attacked by a police dog.
The story in the Mirror, which can be read here, has aroused public concern.
"I’m representing a surprising number of individuals who have been attacked by a police dog. This includes people who are suspected of committing a crime but the police dog has gone too far. Obviously where a large dog such as an Alsatian is concerned these overzealous attacks can result in very nasty injuries. However legal liability and the obligation to compensate the victim of the dog attack is not straightforward. The criminal justice bill means that where someone is convicted they may need to get the court’s permission to bring a compensation claim. People tend to have little sympathy for those injured in this way but the injuries can be truly horrific. Even if you’re a serial offender it is hard to justify such attacks when you see the extent and sometimes life changing nature of these injuries.
But it isnt just criminals who get attacked. What has really surprised me is the number of completely innocent people who are attacked by police dogs. These are simply ordinary people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have been iasked to investigate two new cases in the last two weeks. These cases involve law abiding people who are walking home or jogging when they suddenly find an Alsatian hanging off their arm or leg. Often it involves dogs being exercised by off duty Police officers.
I was actually notified of the attack on the17 year old in the news story by the mother of a client I am already representing in a claim against South Yorkshire Police. We await to see if it was the same dog handler or police dog. In our client's case he went outside to show the police where a burglar was hiding and was bitten. The police are actually blaming him for that. There is no denying that my client was bitten, but what is in dispute is whether the police are to blame. Their view is that he shouldn’t have approached the police officer and dog. Our argument is that the dog was on a long lead and out of sight of the police officer when it attacked our client and so was out of the police officer's control.
In a nutshell there are two types of case involving attacks by a police dog:
(1) Where the police dog is acting in accordance with its training (i.e. grab a suspect) but where the handler is at fault because they are not in control or have not shouted warnings etc; and
(2) Where the police dog acts contrary to its instructions, for examply by failing to respond to commands to release etc.
When we are asked to deal with a claim by someone who has been attacked by a poice dog we always review the training and assessment records. Often you will see that there have been concerns raised in the past that have not been acted on. There are occasions where after an attack a police dog may be put down, but that is very unusual. Training the dog takes time and money and also the police handlers build a very strong bond with the dog. The police can be very defensive and in relation to the South Yorkshire case I’m already dealing with the handler allegedly made some very upsetting comments to our client's mother when he discovered she was going to make a complaint.
Obviously Police Dogs are a valuable resource, but they’re not pets. They’re a tool of the job and a potentially dangerous one at that. They are subjected to training and assessments, but they are animals and therefore unpredictable. I do have concerns that there are some police forces and officers who are willing to turn a blind eye to a dogs' failings because of the time and money they have invested in them and because of the affection they have for that animal."