Dog bit neighbour's child

Ask Sasha: My dog bit my neighbour’s child

My children, Ethan and Charlene were playing with the neighbours’ children, Marley (of Mrs. Kamau from across the street) and Britney (of Mrs. Kariuki, just the next house which is separated from mine by the short wooden fence) at my house. I never know when those children come. Even their parents never know when their children are at my house. I say that because several times, both Mrs. Kamau and Mrs. Kariuki have called to enquire if their son or daughter is at my house. Like I have already said, I never know when they are at my house so even when they call, I usually ask my children if they are with the neighbours’ kids. Depending on the answer I get from my children, I always call back and tell them whether the children are at my house or not. But I know that both Marley and Britney fear our dog, Rambo. He is a black handsome German Shepherd with a fierce look. So, to keep the children from throwing unnecessary tantrums, I usually keep the dog in its kennel until the children have left.
On Saturday, I was busy working in my study, at home. The dog was in the kennel, I know. However, the kennel is locked by a latch and has no padlock. I suspect one the children, even my own children may have unknowingly opened the kennel while Rambo was sleeping.
Rambo hates noise. He gets into attack mode when anyone runs. So, while I was in my study, I heard commotion outside and Charlene was shouting, “Rambo, stop!” I immediately ran out of the house. I feared Rambo had attacked her or even her brother, Ethan.
When I got outside, just near the kennel, I saw Rambo holding Marley’s little leg with its paw and its teeth tearing into his blue jeans. I immediately ran to him, rescued him and put Rambo back in the kennel. I gave him first aid, and quickly drove to the hospital. We were there in like 10 minutes. On the way, I called his mother, Mrs. Kamau and told her what had happened. She has threatened to sue me. I paid Marley’s hospital bill but she still says she will sue me. She says my dog is not fit for keeping in a home and that I should have kept it away from her children. Remember Rambo but Marley from my compound. Mrs. Kariuki has also threatened to sue me for putting her child in danger. But I don’t give a rat’s ass (pardon my French) about Mrs. Kariuki. I am only worried about Mrs. Kamau, whose son was bitten by Rambo.
Can she really sue me? Will I lose the case?

Help.
Mrs. Wanjiru

 

Response

Dear Mrs. Wanjiru,

It is sad to learn of that incident, especially for poor Marley and for the issues between you and your neighbours following that incident. Let me point out that it was so appropriate to pay the medical expenses of the child.

Under common law, the law that is also applicable in Kenya, a dog owner is strictly liable if their dog bites another person. It may not really matter which type of dog you have. Any damage caused by a dog is compensated by the dog owner.

Thank you for being detailed in your query. However, what I do not know if you have a sign near your compound warning of a tough dog. I see many of “Mbwa Kali” around Nairobi. Such signs help to diminish your liability.

It can be said in your defence that the children’s shouting and running around provoked the dog but that can only hold water if the children knew that making noise and running around provoke the dog.

Do you have home insurance? It would come in handy to help transfer your liability.

In the meantime, wait for Mrs. Kamau to serve you with a law suit. When she does, please get in touch with us for proper advice on how you should respond to it. If you have home insurance, liaise with the insurance company’s lawyer on how to respond or even negotiate an out of court settlement.

In the meantime, please consider training your dog on control. It is most appropriate when a dog can attack only when a phrase or set of words is used, words which the dog interprets to mean, “attack!”
Best wishes!
Sasha Musigi

This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 8, Issue 2 of August 11th, 2017
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