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News | Wed 15th Jul, 2015
Simon Brindle has secured judgment in what is believed to be the first case involving a dog attack on an employee at residential premises. Camden v Jackpot Leisure Ltd involved a snooker and pool table repair man, who was sent by his employer to domestic premises to re-felt a pool table. The table was in a shed in the garden and, whilst in that shed, the Claimant became aware of the presence of dogs at the premises. They came through a dog flap in the back door, and were seen by him in a patio area, separated from the garden by a wall. The owner of the house was in the shed with the Claimant at the time, and the Claimant asked him what kind of dogs they were. The owner replied that they were illegal red nosed pit bulls. This made the Claimant uncomfortable.
It transpired that the Claimant needed to return to his works van to get some tools. This would have taken him through the walled patio area, which was accessible from the garden via a gate. At the time the Claimant wanted to go to his van, the dogs had gone back into the house. Nevertheless, fearing for his safety, the Claimant asked the home owner to accompany him through the garden and patio area. As the pair approached the gate to the patio area, one of the dogs reappeared and started growling and snarling. Before the Claimant could do much more, the home owner opened the gate, allowing the dog to come rushing through and maul the Claimant. The other dog then also joined in.
As a result, the Claimant suffered significant physical and psychological injuries. He suffers on-going constant pain, which has compromised his ability to work and function.
The case was brought against both the home owner and the Claimant’s employer. The home owner played no part in proceedings and judgment in default was entered against him.
The claim against the employer was based on the common law requirement that an employer has to take reasonable care to ensure its employee’s safety. This includes times when the employee is not working on premises occupied or controlled by an employer. It was the Claimant’s case that the employer knew about the presence of dogs on the premises and that, as a result or in any event, should have: (a) made enquiries about the presence of dogs on the premises; and (b) instructed the home owner to lock them away. It was also claimed that the employer should have; (a) warned the Claimant about the presence of dogs on the premises; (b) instructed him that he could insist that any dogs on the premises be locked away and refuse to go onto premises if needs be.
The employer denied liability. It contended that the risk was such that it was reasonable to rely upon the common sense of both the home owner and the Claimant, so it took no steps to guard against the risk of dog attacks. It also contended that any breach of duty established by the Claimant was not causative of the accident – the cause of the accident was the home owner opening the gate and nothing it could have said or did would have altered that. Finally, it contended the Claimant was contributory negligent.
The matter went to a liability only trial on 22nd and 23rd June, and judgment was given today, 15 July 2015.
The judge held that, on the facts of the case, the employer was aware of the presence of ‘some’ dogs on the premises, but not that they were vicious or liable to attack.
Nevertheless, the judge held that, in those circumstances the employer ought to have made enquiries of the home owner about the temperament of the dogs and, if told they were potentially aggressive, instructed the home owner to secure them away. The judge also held that the employer should have instructed the claimant about the presence of the dogs at the premises and told him that he could insist that they be locked away if needs be. As the employer had not done any of these things, she found breach of duty established.
With regards to causation, the judge accepted the Claimant’s evidence that, had he been told he could insist that dogs were locked away on first seeing them, he would have done so. She accepted that the Claimant felt unable to say this at the time, for fear of a complaint being made against him by the home owner which might affect his livelihood. She found that the Claimant was faced with a difficult situation and did the best he felt he could. She held that, had the employer either insisted to the home owner that the dogs be locked up or told the Claimant he could so insist the attack would not have happened.
Consequently, liability was established.
With regards contributory negligence, the judge held that the Claimant was faced with an unexpected danger which he did his best to avoid in the prevailing circumstances. He could not be criticised for his actions, even if they turned out to have been the wrong choice.
This is a significant judgment as we could find no other case in which an employer had been successfully (or unsuccessfully) pursued for a dog attack at residential premises. In addition to contending that the employer knew about the presence of the dogs at the premises, it was argued that, if it did in fact not know, it ought to have enquired about the presence of dogs when taking the booking and, in addition, still told its employees that they could insist dogs be locked away. The judge made no specific findings about such a general duty, instead limiting her findings to the fact that the employer did know some kind of dog was present. Whether a Court would hold that the scope of duty to take reasonable care extended to making this more general enquiry or not, and/or giving a more general instruction about requiring dogs be locked away or not, remains to be seen. In light of this judgment, we would be hopeful that it would.
The case now continues to an assessment of damages hearing.
Simon Brindle was instructed by Sajida Chaurdry of Ralli Solicitors.