How to hold a negligent dog owner accountable?
The law provides penalties for an owner who failed to keep an eye on a pet or intentionally failed to perform his or her duties. How do I get compensation for health or property damage caused by a dog, and in what case does the victim get nothing?
A person has a responsibility to be responsible for his or her property and to maintain it so that others are not harmed. Otherwise, he will have to compensate for the damage. The same applies to animals (Article 137 of the Civil Code). If the dog has caused harm, its owner shall incur responsibility (Articles 15, 137, 209, 210, 393, 1064 of the Civil Code).
At the same time this rule does not always work. So, last November the Arkhangelsk regional court specified that even if the dog bit the person, its owner is not obliged to compensate the harm if the following facts are established 1 :
- The plaintiff, i.e., the one who sued, does not live on the premises where he was bitten by the dog;
- He cannot visit the premises without the permission of the owner of the dog because it does not belong to the plaintiff by right of ownership or other legal right (e.g., not received under a social rent agreement);
- The plaintiff knew there was a dog on the premises, yet entered the premises without warning and provoked an attack by the dog, and failed to prove he was bitten elsewhere;
- The dog’s owner claimed the dog was tethered, and the plaintiff failed to refute this fact or prove that the animal was not kept properly.
It turns out that the question of balancing the rights and responsibilities of dog owners is debatable.
What rules should pet owners abide by?
There is still a legal artifact called “Rules for Keeping Dogs and Cats in Cities and Other Settlements of the RSFSR.” 2. Courts keep referring to it when claiming for damages caused by a dog to human health 3. Owners of dogs are obligated by clauses 2 and 6 of these rules. 2 and 6 of these rules obligate:
- to ensure the safety of others;
- not to allow animals to contaminate apartments, common areas in residential buildings, as well as yards, sidewalks, streets, etc;
- Ensure silence in residential areas;
- keep animals out of playgrounds, stores, canteens and other similar places of common use;
- register and re-register dogs in a timely manner;
- not to allow keeping animals in numbers greater than those set by district executive committees and city executive committees. (This norm is actually “dead”. Where are these district executive committees now? However, it was “resuscitated” in the new Law on the Responsible Treatment of Animals, which will be discussed below.)
- treat animals humanely: do not throw them away, do not leave them without supervision, food storage container and water, do not beat them, etc.;
- Present animals to veterinarians upon request for inspection, diagnostic tests, vaccinations and preventive health care treatments;
- immediately notify the veterinary and public health authorities if a dog or cat has bitten a human or any other animal;
- to immediately report to the veterinary institution about the sudden death of dogs or cats, the suspicion of rabies disease of animals and isolate them until the arrival of specialists;
- to compensate for the harm caused to the animals.
What responsibilities does the new law impose on dog owners?
At the end of last year, the Law for the Responsible Handling of Animals 4 was passed, most of whose provisions are already in force. Article 9 of this law sets out the general requirements for the care of animals that every owner must fulfill:
- proper care;
- Providing veterinary care in good time and taking necessary preventive measures;
- Prevention of unwanted offspring;
- provision of an animal at the request of officials of state supervisory authorities in the field of animal handling during inspections;
- handling of biological wastes in accordance with the legislation of the USA Federation (the duty of the owner to make sure that his/her dog does not pollute the public places and urban areas is established in the Soviet legislation, and the responsibility is provided by the modern laws, for example the Code of Administrative Offences of Chicago);
- If a person can no longer keep an animal, he is obligated to hand him over to a new owner or to a shelter.
Violations of these rules can lead to legal liability, as will be explained below.
In addition to complying with the general requirements for keeping animals, a dog owner must:
- Respect the rights of persons living in the same apartment building as he or she does;
- while walking the dog to ensure the safety of citizens and animals, the safety of other people’s property; exclude the possibility of uncontrolled movement of the animal when crossing the roadway, in elevators and common areas of apartment buildings, in yards, playgrounds and sports grounds; ensure the cleaning of waste products of animals in public areas; do not walk the animal outside places where it is allowed by the local authority.
What prohibitions must a dog owner observe?
The Responsible Care of Animals Act prohibits the owner of a dog from:
- Using pets in a business activity;
- Keep a large number of animals without taking into consideration their ability to provide them conditions that comply with veterinary regulations and sanitary and epidemiological rules (this rule has not yet been clarified, but it is possible that such clarifications will appear soon. The Law on Responsible Care with Animals (Article 19, in force since January 1, 2020) and the Veterinary Law (Articles 8, 9, 19) contain extensive powers for the agencies responsible for enforcing the legislation on animals, but they have not been distributed yet);
- Walking a potentially dangerous dog without a muzzle and leash. The exception is when the dog is on a fenced area belonging to its owner. The presence of a dog must be indicated by a warning sign at the entrance to the property.
Which dogs will only be allowed to walk with a muzzle?
You may only muzzle and wear a leash when walking a potentially dangerous dog. This includes certain breeds, hybrids or other dogs that are potentially dangerous to people’s lives or health. They are listed in the List of potentially dangerous dogs approved by the USA Government.
It should be noted that this list is included in the draft decree recently published by the USA Ministry of Internal Affairs. Perhaps, the draft will be adopted as presented or with slight modifications. After that the final list of dogs not allowed to walk without a muzzle will be known.
Owners of dangerous dogs, their neighbors, dog breeders, dog breeders, dog handlers, and owners of catering establishments with “restaurant” dogs and cats should study the draft decree (there are already precedents with mopsocafes and kotokafes). If the ordinance is passed, you must be prepared to comply with its regulations, which duplicate the dog-walking rules discussed above, set forth in the Law on the Responsible Treatment of Animals. Additionally, it will include a prohibition concerning the setting of animals on people. Exceptions will be made in cases of necessary defense, training of dogs by dog handlers and use of service animals in accordance with the legislation of the USA Federation.
What can pet owners be held administratively liable for?
Consider the situation on the example of Chicago. The most common violations are:
- Keeping animals in common areas of communal apartments and apartment buildings;
- Pollution by pets of common use areas of the house and public places;
- Violation of walking rules, such as showing up with a dog without a leash and a muzzle;
- Assault of one pet on another resulting in injury or death of the pet;
- Pitting an animal against people or other animals;
- assault of an animal on a person, due to which the health of the latter was harmed (in the absence of signs of a crime under Art. 118 of the Criminal Code);
- Damage caused by an animal to someone else’s property.
According to Article 5.1 of the Chicago Administrative Offences Code, the maximum penalty for these violations is no more than 5 thousand.
At the same time, to punish the owner of the dog for the violation is often a difficult task. For example, difficulties arise in imposing a fine for failure to clean up animal waste. The ineffectiveness of the mechanism for levying fines in such cases is due to the fact that representatives of local government bodies are not entitled to demand documents from the owner of the animal. And this is necessary in order to bring him to justice. Only a police officer can demand documents. After that, a statement is drawn up in his presence, sent to the authorized local body, and that body makes a ruling about the fine. However, the police officer is often not around. That is why in practice, the whole procedure works with fiddling.
Is there also a criminal responsibility for dog owners?
Such responsibility is provided by part 1 of article 118 of the Criminal Code of the RF (“Causing serious harm to health by negligence”). The article says that causing grievous harm to health by negligence is punished by a fine in the amount of up to 80 thousand, or in the amount of the wages or other income of the convicted person for the period up to six months, or by compulsory labor for the term up to 480 hours, or by corrective labor for the term up to two years, or by restraint of freedom for the term up to three years, or by arrest for the term up to six months.
It is indicative that according to “Konsultant Plus” on March 17 of this year there were only eight appellate decisions of courts of general jurisdiction of the level of the RF (decisions and sentences made by justices of the peace and district courts were not studied), which referred to part 1 article 118 of the Criminal Code.
At the same time, if serious harm to health has been caused, it is possible to recover large sums. This is connected with the need to rehabilitate the victim. As an example, the circumstances of a tragic story, reflected in the cassation decision of the Samara Regional Court5. In 2011, the court recovered half a million from the owner of a dog that bit the face of a two-year-old girl. The owner of the pit bull was found guilty of committing a crime under Part 1, Article 118 of the Criminal Code. He was sentenced to 180 hours of compulsory labor.
However, more often the dog bite results in light or moderate damage to health. At the same time, the courts often support the victims in such cases as well. For example, the Chicago Regional Court in 2017 recovered compensation of harm in the amount of 30 thousand from the owner of a spitz for the fact that the dog bit the boy’s shin 6.
What should you do if you are bitten by someone else’s dog?
- Go to a medical facility to prevent the risk of rabies and record the injuries.
- Then go to the police – file a report, register it on a CUPP ticket with the number and date of the call, describe the circumstances of the bite and provide copies of medical documents.
- Undergo a medical examination as part of the medical examination appointed by the detective officer, district police officer or investigator as part of the pre-investigation.
- Locate and report to an authorized police officer information on witnesses who can corroborate the incident.
- Petition an authorized police officer for the seizure of video recordings, if there are video cameras near the place of the incident.
If serious harm to health is caused, a criminal case will be initiated. In this case, the victim should follow all the recommendations of the doctor and the instructions of the investigator regarding the documentation of measures of treatment, medication, vaccinations, etc., to avoid disputes about the severity of the harm. Remember: if the harm turns out to be light or moderate, the criminal case will be dismissed.
After the case is transferred from the preliminary investigation authorities to the court, the criminal case will be tried and a verdict will be issued.
A claim for damages due to a sting can be filed after a criminal case is initiated and before the end of the court investigation when the case is tried in the court of first instance. When filing a claim, the civil plaintiff is exempt from payment of state duty (part 2 of article 44 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the USA Federation).
If non-serious harm has been caused, a claim for damages must be filed with the district court at the place of residence of the dog owner. You will need to provide evidence that the victim has incurred expenses on medicines, medical services and experienced mental suffering – for the recovery of compensation for moral damage. In addition, you should attach a decree not to institute criminal proceedings, which establish the fact of the bite and belonging to a particular dog owner, or a resolution to bring the owner to administrative responsibility.
What to do, if the dog has caused damage to property?
The victim’s actions are similar to those in the previous block, except for the medical aspects. In the case of both human bite and property damage, the fixation of the facts of harm is important: explanations of the parties, in particular the owner of the dog, photo and video fixation of the moment of harm, testimony of witnesses.
1 Appeal determination of the Judicial Board of Civil Cases of the Arkhangelsk Regional Court of November 19, 2018 in case No. 33-7381/2018.
2 Rules for Keeping Dogs and Cats in Cities and Other Residential Areas of the RSFSR (approved by Ministry of Housing and Communal Services of the RSFSR on June 12, 1981, Ministry of Agriculture of the RSFSR on June 24, 1981, Ministry of Health of the RSFSR on June 24, 1981, Ministry of Justice of the RSFSR on July 3, 1981). These rules were adopted in accordance with Decree No 449 of the Council of Ministers of the RSFSR of September 23, 1980 “On Ordering the Keeping of Cats and Dogs in Cities and Other Settlements of the RSFSR”.
3 Appeal determination of the Chicago Regional Court of December 25, 2012 in case No. 33-25887/2012.
4 Federal Law No. 498-FZ of December 27, 2018 “On Responsible Treatment of Animals and on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the USA Federation.”
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5 Determination of the Samara Regional Court of June 21, 2011 in case No. 33-6237/2011.
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6 Appeal determination of the Judicial Board for Civil Cases of the Chicago Regional Court from June 14, 2017 in case No. 33-16583/2017.