11.5 Injuries and accidents caused by animals

Contributed by EmmaFarnell and current to 1 May 2016

Generally owners are liable for the actions of their animals (including pets) and, in certain cases, can be charged with an offence.


At the common law owners of "tame animals" are liable for their actions (including pets like dogs and cats). The law in relation to dog owners has been specifically legislated and section 32 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act provides that a dog owner is liable for any loss, damage or injury arising from the actions of the dog. Under this provision it is not necessary to prove the owner knew their dog had a tendency to be aggressive or that the owner was negligent.

Dog owners can also be charged with a criminal offence under section 75A of the Summary Offences Act if their dog attacks or menaces a person or animal. The maximum penalty for committing this offence is $5000. For the purposes of this section, the definition of 'dog owner' includes the person in control of the dog or who occupies the premises where the dog is usually kept. For example, a person out walking their friend's dog would be considered the owner.

It is a defence to such a prosecution if the person enticed the dog to attack or menace the person or animal, the attack took place on the dog owner's property, the person attacked was on the dog owner's property for an illegal purpose, or the person attacked on the dog owner's property failed to proceed by the shortest practical route from the boundary of the dog owner's property to the door of the premises closest to that boundary.

Dog owners in metropolitian centres (being Darwin, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Pine Creek, Palmerston, Nhulunbuy, Mataranka, Jabiru, Commalie, Borroloola, Timber Creek, Katherine and Litchefield) should also note that by-laws impose restrictions on keeping animals and many specify fines if a dog attacks or menaces someone.

Other animals

Liability for injury or property damage caused by an animal (other than a dog) is governed by the law of negligence (see Accidents on private and public property). Generally an owner is responsible for injury or damage caused by their animal only if they have been negligent in some way. This is also the case in relation to livestock which cause a motor accident by straying on the road (see State Government Insurance Commission v Trigwell [1979] 142 CLR 617). This position is different to other states and territories in Australia where legislation has changed the common law position.


A person commits an offence under Part 3 of the Public and Environmental Health Act if they cause a public health nuisance. A public health nuisance is broadly defined at section 25 of the Public and Environmental health Act and includes anythings that put at risk or damages public health. Specifically a public health nuisance can be in relation to an animal (dead or alive).

Generally the Animal Welfare Act provides for the welfare of animals to ensure that cuelty is prevented. This also should be considered when dealing with animals.

Part 4A of the Livestock Regulations provides for the welfare of livestock (including crocodiles, cattle, buffalo, horses camels etc) to ensure that cruetly is prevented. This should be considered when dealing with livestock.

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