Legal liability for damage caused by pets
Understanding liability for your pets is important, as if your pet causes injury to another person, you could be held liable. Just as a car cannot be held liable for an accident caused by the person driving it, an animal cannot be held responsible for damage it causes, but its owner may be.
Pet owners are often liable
In most cases, liability can be traced back to the owner of the pet. This is what we call strict liability. The pet owner knows that every animal, no matter how sweet and cute, has an element of risk attached to it. Because the owner takes a certain risk when he takes a pet into his home or takes it for a walk, they are liable in such a case. This does not follow directly from the liability doctrine, but it is written in the Civil Code.
In cases where a pet is taken in by another person, for instance when the owner is on holiday, that person becomes the owner temporarily and would be liable if any damage is caused by the pet during this period.
Pet action must come from its own actions
In practice, the owner bears the responsibility if things go wrong. There is really only one condition attached to this: the damage must arise from the pet's "own action". This is the case, for example, if a dog suddenly bites a person jogging past it, but not if the same dog transmits an infectious disease, someone trips over the dog or if the dog is ordered to bite. In the latter case, the person who gives the command, usually the possessor or owner, may be personally liable.
Sometimes the dividing line between “own action” and a command is not so clear. For example, a dog that learned to bite an intruder's arm on command, can still attack under its own action when it suddenly bites the crotch on such a command. It must be examined on a case-by-case basis whether or not the pet acted under its “own action” and whether or not there is strict liability for the owner.
The importance of the unless clause
The text of the law contains an interesting provision that should be given extra attention. This states that the owner is liable unless there would be no liability if the owner had control over the animal. This is also known as the unless clause.
An example is in the event of an emergency or self-defence. If the owner is attacked and does not give a command to the dog, but the dog then attacks the other person, the owner does not have to be held liable.
Other people can be at fault
Sometimes, an animal can cause damage but not through its own deliberate actions. This is the case if it follows a command to attack someone, or if a group of strangers deliberately provokes the dog, causing it to react and cause an accident.
Sometimes it is your own fault
Finally, it is not always possible to recover (all) damage from the owner of the animal. Sometimes the injured party is also to blame. This is the case, for example, when someone tries to separate two fighting dogs. At such a moment, that person acts at their own risk.
The complication of professional services and animals
When a dog is in the hands of a professional service, such as a walking service, the owner assumes that the dog is in good hands. If something goes wrong, it does not automatically mean that the professional is liable. Ultimately, the owner remains responsible for the education of the dog. Say for instance, that the dog lurches at a cyclist whilst with a dog walker, the animal is more at fault than the professional walking it. This changes if the professional makes a mistake, such as letting the dog off the leash, and would be fault liability where the owner must prove a mistake.
The same reasoning also applies to dog courses. Here too, it is the owner who is in principle liable. Only in exceptional cases will this be different. Think, for example, of a dog school that did not properly demarcate the area of the puppy meadow or an instructor who was negligent. You can read more about this on the page about the liability of professionals in the pet sector.
Does the insurance cover damage caused by pets?
Damage caused by pets is simply covered by private liability insurance (AVP). This means that the insurer will compensate the damage, usually up to a maximum insured amount and minus a deductible. The maximum insured amount is usually quite high, but it is important to understand there are often exclusions. For example, the liability insurance will not compensate for the damage if the insured had the intention to act in this way and thereby wanted to cause damage. When a dog follows a command and the insured is personally liable, the AVP will often not pay for the damage.
Damage to interior
In principle, the liability insurance for pets only covers the damage resulting from the liability. You cannot be liable for your own damage and so the liability insurance will not cover that damage. Most home contents insurers also exclude damage caused by pets as standard, but there are a number of home contents insurance policies that do cover damage caused by pets (under certain conditions).
Problem of animals without owners
The above rules only apply to animals that have an owner. In fact, it only concerns tame animals. With wild animals there is no owner and strict liability does not apply. This is the case, for example, when a fox kills chickens or when a wild deer causes a traffic accident. Sometimes someone else may be liable for this, but that is not on the basis of these rules.
In addition, an animal can also be left without an owner when an owner gives up the animal. Ownership can then pass to someone else when they keep the animal for themselves. When someone picks up a stray kitten from the street and starts taking care of it, that person will then become liable for the stray kitten.
Damage to another pet
Pets can harm each other. The damage to another person's pet is covered by liability insurance. In such a case, the damage to the pet is handled in exactly the same way as the damage to other items, such as a smartphone or a car. This means that the insurer will reimburse the current value of the animal, or the new value to which depreciation has been applied.
In addition, any costs incurred to “keep the case” are reimbursed, such as medical costs and travel costs to go to the vet. “Cleaning up costs” are also reimbursed, for example for the cremation of the dog.
If a pet does not die from the event, the insurer will reimburse the "recovery costs". These are the costs for the vet, travel costs, adapted dog food and so on. Many insurers will propose reimbursement up to the current value of the animal if the recovery costs are high. It is then a choice of the insurer as to whether to take the money on offer and put the animal to sleep, as it would be too expensive to recover.
However, this last line of reasoning has often been rejected in case law. The judge indicates that the liability insurer must reimburse the "repair costs" in function of a "possible and responsible repair", even if these repair costs are higher than the current value. In fact, the main focus should be on the chances of success of the recovery: if they are large enough, the insurer must reimburse them. It is of course always possible to go to court yourself.
On holiday with a pet: what about insurance?
When an insured person goes abroad, the liability insurance continues to apply. This also applies when a pet travels with you and causes damage abroad. Only the maximum coverage must be considered. For example, most liability insurers cover liability up to 1.25 million Euro. That is more than sufficient in the Netherlands but might not always be enough in countries with punitive damages.
When it comes to travel insurance, things differ from insurer to insurer. Many insurers cover medical costs for pets when the travel insurance policy has medical coverage. Please note, however, because this cover is often limited to a maximum of 350 Euro. With some insurers there is even a cover of 115 Euro per pet. In addition, there may also be a restriction per policy. Such amounts may suffice for a minor issue, but that is of course not the case with rising medical costs for a more extensive injury caused by your pet.
Finally, most cancellation insurers do not allow you to cancel the trip if the pet dies before departure. This is the case at Allianz, Vereniging Eigen Huis and Zwitserleven, among others, but there are restrictive conditions.
Not all pets are insured
There is no distinction on the type of animal that an owner is liable for in Dutch law. This could be a dog or a cat, chickens, sheep, goats, or even Guinea pigs. A large dog will pose a greater risk to another person than a little hamster, but the liability is the same for the owner.
For the insurer though, there are often definitions includes within the policy. When talking about ‘pets’ they may include definitions that say they mean dogs, cats, and horses, whilst others might cover goats, sheep, cows, rabbits, goldfish, bearded dragons, and many more animals. It is important you ask your insurer when signing up to the policy that your specific pets are covered.
What happens if a pet causes damage to another?
The fact that a pet causes damage to another does not automatically mean strict liability. The liability terms remain in effect and the pet must still act on its own accord. If the conditions are met, the injured party can hold the pet owner liable. If the owner has taken out liability insurance, the insurer may pay for the damage.
Rarely is it possible to appeal to the content’s insurance. The contents insurance almost always contains an exception for pets that are allowed in the home by the owner. Only when, for example, a dog escapes, walks into a neighbour’s house and eats half a seat, can the neighbour simply claim his contents insurance. The home contents insurer will then invoke the rights of the neighbour and in turn hold the owner of the dog liable. If the owner again has liability insurance, the two insurers will arrange everything else between themselves.
Damage caused by a pet
When a pet is hit by a car, it is important to know who is liable for the damage caused. This depends on the situation. For example, a pet may walk in a place where it should not be, for example on the highway, making the owner of the animal liable. But it is also possible that the driver has made a mistake.
All about hitting an animal →
Pets and spreading disease
Pets can not only cause physical damage but may also spread disease. Think, for example, dogs that can transmit rabies or cats that can spread toxoplasmosis. In some cases, the pet owner may be held liable if they have not taken appropriate measures to prevent the spread.
All about pets and spreading disease
Neighbour nuisance caused by pets
Pet nuisance to neighbours is a common problem. Pets can cause a nuisance by barking, meowing or scratching on the wall or doors. The smell of urine or faeces can also cause nuisance. In some cases, pets can also cause damage to neighbours' property. The owner of the animal can then be held liable.
Everything about neighbour nuisance caused by pets
What if there is no liability insurance?
In this case, the owner of the pet must pay for the damage themselves. This damage can be very high, especially if there is personal injury or if the victim has to deal with a loss of income. The owner of the pet can lose everything because of this.
Do's and don'ts for damage caused by a pet?
It is important to remain calm. The owner of the pet probably wouldn't have wanted the event to happen either, and might be upset. Keep calm, record the owner's details, record witnesses' details, take photos, and so on.
If there is also a criminal offence, a report must be made to the police. Article 425 of the Criminal Code is relevant - stating that “anyone who does not take sufficient care to keep harmless a dangerous animal under his care” is punishable. Especially when it is clear that a dog has an aggression problem, is not on a leash and also does not have a muzzle, it is recommended to report it.
When there is a personal injury, the victim should always go to the doctor. This is not only important for the necessary care, but also in the context of the future liability case.
Also remember that everyone has a damage limitation obligation. So neatly follow the treatment prescribed by the doctor.fa
Pet Damage Liability FAQ
Many people have pets, such as dogs or cats, and enjoy their company. Unfortunately, it can sometimes happen that the pet causes unintentional damage. This pet damage FAQ answers several questions that can help you understand liability in this type of situation.
When is self-defence?
Self-defence exists if the victim has acted unlawfully or has been careless. This is the case, for example, when the victim approaches a dog aggressively.
Does the insurer also cover damage to my own pet?
In principle, liability insurance only covers liability or damage caused to third parties. In principle, damage incurred by your own dog during a fight with another person's dog is not covered. Sometimes pets are insured by the contents insurance, but only when they are present in the home. The compensation is then calculated on the current value and not on the purchase value. In the case of an old dog, the compensation will therefore be very limited.
Which animals are insured by the liability insurance?
This varies from policy to policy, but in principle it concerns hobby and companion animals. This includes pets, but also horses and small livestock. This can sometimes cause problems, especially when it comes to large groups of animals. It is recommended to consult with the insurer to take out appropriate liability insurance.
Who should compensate the damage in the event of a dog being involved in a collision?
Classic liability law applies here. Of course, an animal does not belong on the road, but if a car is at too high a speed, the driver may be at fault. The situation is also different when the dog, together with the owner, crosses the road appropriately. If the driver is liable, his WA car insurance must cover the damage to the dog. His insurance will reimburse the damage to the car. If the owner is liable, his liability insurance will cover the damage to the car.
Am I liable if my pet transmits a disease?
The transmission of a disease does not happen from an animal's "own action" and therefore the owner is often not liable, but there are exceptions. This is the case, for example, for a cat that scratches someone and thus transmits disease. In that case, the damage does arise from the animal's own action. Another example is when the owner makes a mistake, for example, by deliberately infecting other animals or people through the actions of its pet.
Does a mistake by the owner have consequences?
With regard liability for pets, strict liability will still be invoked because the burden of proof is lower. In the case of fault liability, one must therefore prove the fault of the owner. On the other hand, it can have consequences from an insurance point of view. In principle, liability insurance for pets will not cover the damage if the owner is at fault. For example, suppose a stray dog bites a child. If that dog has escaped of its own energy, the insurer will pay for the damage. If the owner himself decides to let the dog run loose without a leash, it is on his own responsibility.
My horse kicked someone who just walked into the stable. Does that make a difference?
The action of the person concerned does not simply mean that the owner of the horse is no longer liable. However, it may happen that the court rules that this is a case of own fault. This means that part of the damage cannot be compensated by the owner of the horse (or their insurer). If necessary, the court can correct the own fault by means of a fairness correction. Each case will be unique.
Does an exoneration sign make sense?
At the equestrian center and at the dog school there are often signs that indicate that the management is not liable for accidents. This makes little sense regarding legal liability. It remains possible to hold the equestrian center or the dog school liable.