Can you sue if a police dog bites you? We look at the law relating to liability for police dog bites.
As with all dog bite cases, if you suffer a bite from a police dog there are two potential allegations that can be made. You can allege a breach of the 1971 Animals Act and you can allege that the police have been negligent.
To determine whether you can sue if a police dog bites you we would recommend that you speak to a specialist solicitor. We operate a free legal helpline so you can call us for initial guidance.
If you do sue the police it is particularly important that ithe legal claim is prepared properly and that the solicitor dealing with it understands the law involved. As specialist dog bite lawyers who deal with such cases on a daily basis, we know exactly what to do and how to go about getting you the best result.
Over the last three years almost £800,000 has been paid in compensation to people bitten by police dogs. Greater Manchester Police paid out more then £180,000 while the Met Police are next on the list, paying out £95,000. West Midlands police were responsible for the highest number of dog bites. The people who have been bitten by police dogs include those suspected of committing a criminal offence, police staff and innocent members of the public
Under the Animals Act it is usually difficult for a dog owner to defend a legal claim if you can show that the injury was:
(a) Likely to have resulted;
(b) Caused by a characteristic of the dog; and
(c) that characteristic was known about by the owner.
Arguably a police dog, which is specifically trained to “chase and detain”, satisfies all three aspects of the test. But the fact it is a police dog offers the police service a potential defence. For example, they can argue that the person bitten “voluntarily accepted the risk of damage” by failing to stop when commanded to do so. If the police can establish this then they will have a defence under the Animals Act. In addition there are arguments that training is different from a ‘characteristic’ as defined in the Act.
Alleging that the police have been negligent means looking at whether or not there is something the police should have done (or have failed to do) to prevent the dog bite. It also means proving that they should have been aware that such an incident was likely, or “foreseeable”.
Proving negligence involves looking at the training records of the dog and its handler and searching for evidence of any previous incidents or similar attacks. If the records show that the dog had a history of difficulty obeying commands then it could be argued that an incident was likely; not just that the police dog would attack and cause injury (which is central to their role as a police dog) but more importantly it would overreact or fail to respond when placed in a “chase and detain” situation.
The dog handler himself may have been negligent by choosing to release the dog at the wrong time or by failing to shout a warning before doing so. The officer owes a duty of care to those who he is going to set the dog on and this is breached if he fails to follow correct procedure and if he releases a dog over which he has little or no control and which could cause a foreseeable injury.
In certain circumstances there may be third option. You may be able to make a claim against the police for assault. This would be the case if it can be shown the police have acted in a way which they knew to be unjustifiable and intended to cause harm or at least acted without caring whether they caused harm or not. The police could counter argue that they were only using reasonable force in the prevention of crime or to lawfully arrest a suspect and it is whether or not they used “reasonable force” which will be a key factor.