Blog: Third party liability insurance – a dog owner’s best friend?

Heather Tierney

To protect the public, it should be taboo for dog owners not to have third party liability insurance, writes Heather Tierney.

Horrific stories of people mutilated by dogs are unfortunately increasingly common. This has coincided with a proliferation in dog ownership and the ease of availability of puppies, which can be bought online in minutes.

Recent figures show Scottish hospital admissions due to dog attacks have risen by 80 per cent in a decade. As you may expect, there has also been a spike in the number of dog attack claims and enquiries we have dealt with.

Sadly, securing compensation and more importantly, rehabilitative treatment costs, for victims can be a difficult process. Introducing compulsory third party liability insurance for all owners could go some way to remedying this.

It is a legal requirement for the owners of dogs specified in the Dangerous Dogs Act to take out third party liability insurance. This has created a two-tier system where a person injured by an animal specified in the Act is more likely to obtain compensation than someone attacked by any other breed of dog.

In Scotland, local authorities can issue a Dog Control Notice to an owner following a complaint about their pet’s behaviour. However, these usually occur after a member of the public has already come to harm. Dog Control Notices are used sporadically by councils and can only be intimated after an animal has shown signs of threatening behaviour.

To shield their finances from sizable vets’ bills, owners usually take insurance for dogs to cover against accidents or illnesses. Making third party liability cover compulsory would protect victims of attacks in the future.

Survivors of a dog attack can suffer long-lasting physical and mental injuries. These include scars, mutilation and even a fear of leaving home because dogs are commonplace on our streets.

Compensation is essential to assist victims in getting their lives back on track but achieving this can be challenging. If the dog owner has no insurance, the alternative is to pursue the owner in court as an individual. Many owners are unable to meet the costs of the compensation sought by the victim, and unlike with road traffic accidents, there is often no insurer to foot the bill.

Many road users will never be responsible for an accident but they must take insurance as a precaution to protect themselves and others. Accidents can and unfortunately will always happen, and the same can be said of dog attacks.

Compulsory dog insurance would encourage responsible dog ownership, creating a similar situation to that of car insurance, which is in place to encourage safe driving and ensure financial and medical cover is there if an accident takes place. In fact, a number of responsible dog owners will likely already have comprehensive cover as third party liability is often included in an accident or illness policy.

The idea has been mooted before and implementing such a policy would not be without challenges. For example, irresponsible dog owners may dodge taking cover when they are precisely the people the policy is designed to target.

What is clear is that the protections in place are not fit for purpose and, with the number of dog attacks skyrocketing, action must be taken.