A vicious dog attack on former Gold Coast City Councillor Susie Douglas has renewed focus on Queensland’s inadequate dog laws with lawyer Bruce Simmonds saying owners of dangerous dogs should be legally required to have public liability insurance cover for their animals.
He said the current laws generally allowed every dog to get one “free” bite but the law was poorly structured and needed to be toughened so a dog owner was held responsible in town settings for any and all actions by their dogs.
Mr Simmonds, Litigation Director of Gold Coast law firm Parker Simmonds Solicitors and Lawyers, said the issue is back in the news after Ms Douglas, a high profile city councillor between 2004 and 2012, was reportedly chased down a Southport street by a bull mastiff last week, repeatedly savaging her. Ms Douglas was hospitalised with bite wounds to her back, buttocks, calves and legs.
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Mr Simmonds has renewed a call he made last year for owners of dangerous dogs to be legally required to pay up, to ensure dog attack victims’ medical costs are covered.
“Why should owners of dangerous dogs be exempted from having to insure against their dog’s behaviour? Anyone whose activities could endanger the public is required to have public liability insurance cover. The cost of dog insurance would be a pointed reminder to dog owners of their responsibilities,” Mr Simmonds said.
He said he had acted for numerous dog bite victims in compensation claims and felt the public did not necessarily appreciate the ongoing trauma victims suffered from dog attacks.
“In some respects the attack on Susie Douglas puts a public face on dog attack victims who too often are treated almost as just a statistic. What if the victim here was a child or a baby? Our dog laws are too lax.
“Dog owners in town settings should be responsible for all actions of their dog. If they can’t look after it they shouldn’t have one. A dog should not be able to leave its home property to attack passers-by. In the country if a dog bit a person or stock it would be shot,” he said.
Mr Simmonds has argued that Queensland should adopt the New South Wales system where owners are automatically liable for their dog’s behaviour and can be fined or even jailed if they ignore their responsibilities.
“In Queensland even though a dog is allowed to have a first bite before it can be classed as dangerous, you still have to show negligence in not containing the animal.
“There’s no real criminal liability here although certain dangerous breeds are banned, as they should be. But the dog laws system is still soft and needs strengthening,” he said.
“We should have a system that says you must have compulsory third party insurance when registering your dog. If the dog bites someone, there’s automatic liability on the dog’s owner,” Mr Simmonds said.
The system could also provide for a substantial fine and the dog’s destruction if the dog’s insurance or registration lapses.
“Responsible owners will follow the rules, it’s the irresponsible or careless ones we need to target,” he said.
“If a person can’t insure their dog, they can’t have a dog, just as you can’t legally drive a car if there’s no CTP insurance,” he said.