On 18 February 2017, Gerald Cloete, a gardener and refuse collector in Port Elizabeth, was walking down the street of a residential suburb after completing a job. For no reason, and without any warning, he was attacked by three dogs owned by a resident.
Another resident came to his rescue and was also attacked by the dogs. According to court documents, the dogs were finally chased away by the police firing shots at them.
Cloete was attacked so badly that others who responded to the scene thought he was dead. While he survived, one of his arms had to be amputated. Cloete originally filed a R2.4 million lawsuit and, while the final costs weren’t disclosed in court documents, they do reveal the dog owner was subject to pay for the costs of counsel and recompense to the victim.
It’s any dog owner’s and any victim’s worst nightmare.
In South Africa, there are only three recognized defenses against actio de pauperize (the law that holds the owner of an animal accountable for harm caused by that animal):
In this case, the owner of the dogs (who wasn’t home during the attack) claimed that earlier, an intruder tried to break into his home and left the gate wide open for the dogs to escape, although court documents show that this was only speculation and there’s no way to prove why the gate was open.
The Supreme Court of Appeal rejected the owner’s appeal, pointing out that responsibility for the dogs cannot be passed from the owner to the alleged intruder.
What this ruling means for dog owners
South African law is very clear on this: Apart from actio de pauperize summarized above, owners are fully responsible for any harm caused by their pets. Here’s what you can do to keep your dog, other people, and yourself safe:
Whether you’re worried about your pup’s temperament or simply want to give them the best care possible, our affordable pet insurance plans offer Third-Party Liability that cover any damage your dog might inflict on someone up to R265 000. Get a free online quote today.