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Law and Order: When dogs attack: ownership laws

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PHUKET: There are growing numbers of dog owners in Thailand who treat their animals like their children, prized possessions, or members of the family. With the surge in pet ownership, there have been more disputes involving domesticated animals. We have recently been contacted about two dog biting cases.

A KIWI BITE

The first case was a man from New Zealand who was in the process of applying for a retirement visa in Thailand. He was in Pattaya looking for a condominium to rent, the owner of which had a medium sized brown dog. When inspecting the condominium, the dog became agitated and growled at the man, who had decided to leave. He turned around and began his departure. The dog came after him. The man ran. The dog chased him and bit him in the back of the leg, puncturing his skin, which began to bleed.

The man was taken to the hospital where he was given stitches and shots. According to the owner, this was the first time that her dog had ever bitten anyone. She believed the dog had become agitated because there was a stranger in the home.

What can the man from New Zealand do?

Section 433 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code states that the owner of an animal is bound to compensate an injured party for any damages caused by the animal. Thailand is a civil law country based on the German Civil and Commercial Code, so the New Zealand man can only file a claim for any actual expenses arising from the incident, such as medical bills and loss of property.

Unless the dog owner could prove that the man intentionally provoked the dog, she will be liable to compensate the victim for his medical bills and any other costs directly attributable to the attack.

Furthermore, the New Zealand man can possibly file criminal charges against her under section 300 of the Penal Code for being negligent in not exercising proper restraint of the dog. If it could be proved that she knew her pet was becoming agitated and did not restrain the animal, she could be found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm to another. The potential penalty for a guilty verdict is imprisonment for up to three years and a 6,000 baht fine.

DEATH OF A TOY DOG

The second case involved a Thai national with an expensive small purebred toy dog. She lives in a wealthy gated community with large homes and many foreigners. As part of her daily exercise routine, she likes to take her own dog for a morning walk around the neighborhood.

One of her neighbors was a British man who had taken in two large street dogs as pets. The British man uses the dogs to guard his home and the dogs stay outside the home but within his gated property.

Whenever anyone walked by the gated home, the dogs would bark and make a lot of commotion. The guard dogs would regularly escape and terrorize the neighborhood whenever the British man’s gate was left open.

The Thai national would sometimes see the British man’s dogs run free in the neighborhood. His dogs never attacked the woman but would bark and attempt to bite her small dog. The woman was always able to grab her little dog to protect him until last month when the British man’s servant left the gate open and the dogs escaped. They entered the Thai woman’s property and attacked her little dog. Before the woman was able to rescue her dog, her dog was grabbed and shaken for several minutes. Her dog died at the vet hospital about 14 hours later from injuries sustained in the attack.

What can the Thai woman do?

Under section 433 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code, the British man is responsible to compensate the injured party for damage caused by his dogs. The damage in the above case is to the Thai woman’s property, which is her toy dog. The Thai woman can file a lawsuit against the British man for the dog’s medical expenses and the replacement cost of a new purebred toy dog. Even though the attack was vicious, Thailand places restrictions on monetary claims for emotional distress. So she would probably not be able to receive any compensation for emotional distress.

If the British man was negligent in allowing his dogs escape and the dogs were known to have been of a vicious nature, the British man can be sued for criminal actions. He can be found guilty under section 358 of the Thai Penal Code, for damaging, destroying, or causing destruction of the property of another as a result of negligent actions. In addition, Section 377 of the Thai Penal Code states that the owner is responsible for a vicious animal if that animal is allowed to wander freely and is likely to cause injury to persons or property. Both crimes provide for imprisonment and/or a fine.

When someone takes possession of an animal, he or she can become legally liable for torts caused by the animal. And while most pet owners treat their cats or dogs like their children, in the eyes of the law they are only property. For most pet owners, the replacement value is not enough to relieve the suffering caused by the loss of a pet.

Additional reporting by Yutthachai Sangsirisap.

Mr Robert R Virasin is a licenced US Attorney and managing director of Virasin & Partners. Mr Yutthachai Sangsirisap is a licenced Thai Attorney at Virasin & Partners. They can be reached at info@virasin.com or at www.virasin.com.

— Robert Virasin

 

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