Domestic animals are a source of joy to their owners across the world. But every so often, that joy is not shared with a person who suffers an injury caused by such an animal. In these cases, it is easy for the victim to lay full responsibility for the injury on the owner’s shoulders. But that may not be how the law sees it.  

An actio de pauperie is a legal action that specifically provides legal recourse to victims of a domestic animal attack, holding the owner of the domestic animal liable for the injury caused by their animal’s actions. An actio de pauperie success depends on a number of specific requirements, however.

For an actio de pauperie to be successful, four aspects need to be proven:

  1. Ownership of the animal must have been vested in the defendant at the time of the injury.
  2. At the time of the event, the animal must have been successfully domesticated.
  3. The animal’s actions must have been contrary to the general behaviour of domesticated animals.
  4. The injury must have been caused directly by the actions or conduct of the animal.

The first two points are easily provable by a factual enquiry. The last two are where the difficulty begins.

To prove the third point requires the gathering of sufficient proof of similar domestic animals’ conduct. This requires a close comparison between the natural and domesticated behaviour of animals to determine if the animal acted contra naturam sui generis (contrary to the animal’s natural behaviour). In approaching this point, the plaintiff must consider how an animal’s actions will vary in different circumstances and whether the animal may have analysed the situation differently than the victim did, acting according to a perceived threat.

When the injury or harm is inflicted directly by the animal, the last point is easily proven. But when the harm of not caused by a direct attack, the plaintiff must prove a direct causal link between the animal’s actions and the injury sustained.

Defendants in an actio de pauperie also have four vital defences available to them:

  1. Proving that the plaintiff’s actions provoked the animal.
  2. Providing evidence that places the responsibility of the animal with a third party at the time of the event (e.g. if a dog was with a dog walker in a park).
  3. Sufficiently proving that the plaintiff was unlawfully present at the premises where the injury was sustained.
  4. Using volenti non fit iniuria ((Latin for “to a willing person, injury is not done”) as the defence, proving that the plaintiff knew that there was a risk of injury.

For plaintiffs and defendants alike, an actio de pauperie depends on expert legal representation that has your best interests at heart. Get in touch with us to get just that.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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