Who's responsible

when pets misbehave?

Imagine this. You’ve taken your pooch out for fun at the dog park, and while off-lead he gets a little over-excited, races away and nips another dog. Unfortunately, the bitten dog develops an infection and becomes seriously unwell, resulting in thousands of dollars in vet bills.

Who should pay?

Understanding third party liability

Under New Zealand law a dog owner is liable to pay damages for injury done to another dog. That is, unless the owner of the injured dog was negligent in some way that led to the incident.

PD Insurance (pd.co.nz) Chief Operating Officer Michelle Le Long says, “Most people assume if their dog bites another dog they are automatically at fault and responsible for that dog’s vet bills. However, this is not the case.”

“In the eyes of the law, pets are considered a person’s property. For a pet owner to be legally liable for a third party’s loss or damages – like injury to someone else’s pet – they need to have been negligent in some way. They need to have failed in keeping control of their dog.

“As an example, if you are holding your dog by your side on a short lead then an off-lead dog runs over excitedly and your dog bites it, you should not be held liable for the vet bills. Instead, this falls on the owner of the off-lead dog.

“Taking it a step further, if your dog was off-lead when this happened you would be liable instead. As the ‘property owner’ you didn’t take the necessary steps to control your dog.

That means you will be forced to pay those vet bills – unless you have pet insurance that includes third-party liability (unless your pet has a history of violence). Third-party liability cover is included in all three PD pet insurance plans, safeguarding against the expenses of your cat or dog injuring a person or animal, or damaging someone else’s belongings or property.

A dog act can mean serious debt

Of course, this is not a licence to relax and let your dog run amok among other people’s pets and property. Remember: it is a legal requirement that every dog owner ensures their dog is kept under control at all times – as outlined in the Dog Control Act 1996.

An owner must take all reasonable steps to ensure their pet does not cause distress to, injure, endanger or intimidate any person, stock, poultry, domestic animal or protected wildlife, and does not damage or endanger property belonging to any person. Failure to comply with the Act can result in prosecution and a fine of up to $3,000 if convicted. If any attack by your dog causes serious injury or death to a person or protected wildlife, you may be liable for a prison term of up to three years and/or a fine of $20,000. Your dog will also likely be euthanised.

When deemed at-fault after your dog bites another animal or person, this also generally means you are responsible for paying the other person’s vet/doctor bills and any other necessary damages. Failing to control your dog can land you in serious financial hot water.

Don’t take the chance

While your beloved fur kid may be the most obedient, sweet-natured pet, dogs and cats can be unpredictable and accidents can occur.

Whether through a fright, a mistake, or an exuberant tail wag knocking over a neighbour’s precious crystal vase, you could end up paying thousands in repairs, replacements or vet bills. Take your pet out with peace of mind – get pet insurance with third-party liability cover.


Media contact 
Leandri Smith – The Mail Room 
027 365 9003 | [email protected]