Tag: #dogbitelawyers



As personal injury lawyers providing advice to clients, we find that people are often surprised to hear that not only are they burdened with carrying the consequences of their injuries, but at law, they also carry the burden of proof in their claim for compensation for those injuries.

What does burden of proof mean?

What is meant by “the burden of proof” is essentially who has the task of proving a certain fact (the standard of proof against which a claim and evidence is measured before that fact is considered proven is dealt with next). The burden of proof in different issues and aspects in personal injuries claims can depend on the law surrounding a particular type of claim.

As a broad proposition, it is the case that the burden of proving that a particular injury, loss and damage has been suffered, and that the particular injury, loss and damage was caused by a Defendant (the person or entity against whom a claim is proposed to be brought against) will rest with the injured Plaintiff.

Therefore, if you are unfortunate enough to suffer personal injuries in an incident which may give rise to compensation, it is vitally important that you take steps to protect yourself early by preserving evidence. Our role will be to handle this for you and/or to advise you on how to do so.

To prove that a particular incident occurred, necessary evidence to preserve and obtain may include the following:

  • Photographs;
  • CCTV footage;
  • Witness details and accounts;
  • First responder notes and reports (such as from Police, paramedics, SES, CFA, and 000 call takers);
  • Physical items (vehicle and bicycle wrecks, pieces of vehicles or machinery such as debris, items of clothing or footwear, blood spatters, damaged safety gear and the like);
  • Contemporaneous records entered into medical notes (such as in hospitals and medical clinics).

As to the nature and extent of particular injuries and losses, we will obtain the following:

  • Medical notes from hospitals and your treating medical practitioners, including radiological scans;
  • Medical reports from your treating medical practitioners;
  • Medico-legal reports from independent medical examiners;
  • Financial materials such as income tax returns and payslips;
  • Statements from co-workers and family members.

Great care and attention needs to be given in the wording of requests for medical opinions.

There are some instances where the burden of proof may shift to a Defendant. For example, where a Defendant alleges that a Plaintiff was contributorily negligence as to the occurrence, nature and/or extent of their own damage, the Defendant will have the burden of proving such an allegation. Also, it is common for Defendants to allege that a Plaintiff has failed to mitigate their own loss (that is, take steps to rehabilitate, retrain etc) – they must produce evidence to satisfactorily establish that.

Do not think simply because you are the one who has had injury inflicted upon you due to no fault of your own that you can sit back and compensation will materialise – you must prove your entitlement.

To what standard must I prove my case?

In civil cases based on negligence dealing with personal injuries and compensation/damages, all issues must be established “on the balance of probabilities”. This does not require absolute scientific certainty, but rather requires proving something on a more probable than not basis.

We often get questions from clients who are concerned as to what it means for their case if officials such as Police, WorkSafe or other statutory bodies elect not to press charges and prosecute a person or entity for what has occurred. Whilst it can obviously be helpful for a subsequent civil claim if this occurs and a conviction is secured against a Defendant, this generally will not be fatal to a Plaintiff’s proposed claim. In fact, it is commonplace.

That is because with, for example, Police looking into investigating a certain type of wrong doing in a motor vehicle accident, they are required to consider whether they can make out a charge to the criminal standard, which is “beyond reasonable doubt”, measured against the specific elements of a defined crime. This is a higher and more difficult standard than the civil standard. Also, although the consequences of an accident are highly relevant for the Police, the focus is often more so on the actions (including intent or otherwise) of someone who caused the accident in terms of assessing culpability. Things are more nuanced from a civil negligence perspective, in that a simple failure by a Defendant (such as a positive action or inaction) can lead to catastrophic consequences for an injured Plaintiff; it is common in road accidents to see one driver only issued with a fine for failing to give-way while the outcome of the failure to give-way may be fatal injuries or severe and permanent disability to the injured Plaintiff who was on the wrong end of the Defendant’s action/inaction. The same can apply with workplace accidents or incidents in public or private places where not even a fine can be issued. Provided you can nonetheless discharge the burden of proof to the requisite standard of proof, very substantial damages (pain and suffering, economic loss and in some cases, medical expenses and care) will be achieved regardless of the position the authorities have taken.

Although the standard of proof in a civil claim for damages based on negligence is a lesser standard to which a prosecution must make out a charge in a criminal matter, this does not mean a lawyer acting for an injured Plaintiff can be lazy or take less care in going about proving a client’s case: we at Fortitude Legal do the opposite (noting the burden you carry) and we will always undertake a forensic analysis and approach to our clients’ claims to give you the best prospects of success.

A. What Are Your Rights?

The Wrongs Act 1958 (‘the Act’) is the primary legislation in Victoria, which governs claims for personal injury where a person has been bitten by a dog (different legislation applies if the dog bite occurred at work and additional rights flow). As a victim of a dog attack, the Domestic Animals Act 1994 will also have application.

A person may be entitled to bring a common law compensation claim, which is also known as a “damages” claim, against a negligent party. If you were injured in a public area, your claim would be referred to as a “public liability” claim.

With a public liability claim, you must prove that a third party’s negligence was the cause of your injury.  This involves various elements including:

  1. Were you owed a duty by the other party?
  2. Did that party breach that duty? and
  3. Did that breach cause the incident to occur and in turn, you to suffer injury.

The Domestic Animals Act 1994 is of assistance here as it provides for a range of offences and liability in respect of dog attacks, thereby creating a statutory duty. (You still need to establish negligence in a  common law claim however).  There are references to a “restricted breed dog” (which are those noted on a prescribed list) and a “dangerous dog”, which is a dog so declared by the Council. If the dog in question was not declared a “dangerous dog” by the Council prior to the attack, the person in apparent control of the dog, whether or not they are the owner of the dog, at the time it attacks or bites a person and causes death or serious injury can be found guilty of an offence.

B. What does The Domestic Animals Act prescribe?

The Domestic Animals Act 1994 and associated Codes of Practice provide various laws and penalties pertaining to dogs and other animals including but not limited to:

– Dogs over 3 months old must be registered with the relevant Council and failure to do so can lead to a fine of up to 20 penalty units;
– Council can refuse to register a dog that is not desexed;
– For dogs found at large, an owner can be fined up to 10 penalty units;
– For dogs that are not defined as a “dangerous dog” or “restricted breed dog” and the dog attacks or bites a person or animal, the person in apparent control of the dog, whether or not the owner, can be liable for a penalty of up to 40 penalty units;
– If a dog rushes or chases any person, the person in apparent control of the dog at the time, whether or not the owner, can be liable for a penalty of up to 4 penalty units;
– Where the dog is defined as a “dangerous dog” or a “restricted breed dog” and it attacks or bites a person or animal, the person in apparent control of the dog at the time of attack or biting, whether or not the owner of the dog, can be liable to a term of imprisonment or a fine of up to 120 penalty units;
– There are some defences that apply.

One penalty unit in Victoria as at 1 July 2021 is $181.74.

The Courts are given quite broad powers in dealing with offences under this legislation, including but not limited to:
– The power to seize, take custody of, dispose of or destroy the dog;
– The power to prohibit ownership;
– The power to order that a person pay compensation for any damage caused by the conduct of the dog.

The Crimes Act 1958 also provides penalties for owners who fail to control a dangerous, menacing or restricted breed dog that kills a person or places a person in danger of death. Such penalties can be up to 10 years imprisonment.

C. So What is Local Council’s Role?

Local Councils are required to have in place a Domestic Animal Management Plan. For example, the City of Greater Geelong Domestic Animal Management Plan 2018-21 provides guidelines on how to promote and encourage responsible pet ownership, and manage issues around dogs and cats.  This Plan sets out work already underway and what the City hoped to improve through to 2021.  The City also has in places various policies including but not limited to Dogs Controls in Public Places Policy 11 December 2018 and how to Report a Dog at Large.

You will find Similar Plans in your region if you are not from the Geelong Region.  We are happy to assist you with this if you need help.

D. Dog Attacks – the Statistics in the City of Greater Geelong

With one of the largest animal populations of any Victorian Municipality, whilst the statistics are outdated, according to City of Greater Geelong Domestic Animal Management Plan 2018-21, there were 214 attacks between August 2016 and August 2017.

Dog attacks can have devastating consequences both from a physical and psychological perspective and can at times cause death.
In addition to the power of the Courts to award compensation under the Domestic Animals Act 1994 , a dog attack victim may have the right to bring a claim for damages as referred to above which may include a claim for medical expenses, loss of income and pain and suffering.  It does not matter whether or not the owner has been prosecuted in relation to the attack.

If you or someone you know has suffered injury as a result of a dog attack, please call us, we are experts in dog bite claims and are here to assist.

At Fortitude Legal – WE’RE IN YOUR CORNER!