Q: My neighbour owns a German Shepherd and one day it ran out of its compound. It attacked and bit my pet Maltese, which happened to be standing by our gate. We were in the house at the time but rushed my Maltese to the hospital as soon as we heard the dog barking in pain. It died shortly after due to the injury. Is there any legal discourse I can seek?
A: Hi Dylan. First of all, please accept my condolences for the death of your pet. It's never easy when such incidents take place but you need to remain calm and not let your emotions take over and risk complicating the situation further.
Now the Maltese, if legally registered as belonging to you, can be considered your property. In this case, you may sue your neighbor to recover compensation for the loss of your property (the death of the Maltese).
To succeed in a lawsuit of this nature, you must show that your neighbor was negligent in his conduct. Specifically, you will need to prove a few points to the court. First, that any reasonable person (including your neighbour) would have foreseen that, if the German Shepherd was left unattended or unrestrained, it might pose a danger to other persons or animals. Second, that, despite foreseeing such danger, your neighbour did not take steps to prevent it from happening (for example, to ensure the German Shepherd was muffled, tied up, or enclosed). Last, that he foreseen danger must have actually eventuated, leading to some damage or loss on your part.
If the court finds your neighbour liable for negligence, the court may order your neighbour to compensate you for the cost at which you purchased your Maltese, or the cost of purchasing another similar pet dog. If you experience severe psychiatric or emotional harm as a result of losing the Maltese or witnessing the attack on it, you may be awarded compensation for such distress, but this type of compensation is rare.
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Wei Li practises litigation and arbitration at KEL LLC – a boutique Singapore law firm specialising in civil and commercial law. He acts for corporate and individual clients in managing and resolving disputes across a wide range of issues and industries. Wei Li has a particular interest and expertise in Internet and social-media law. He provides strategic counsel and representation to businesses and high-profile individuals in a spectrum of media-related issues such as reputation management, appropriate-use policies, privacy and digital marketing. In addition to his practice as a lawyer, Wei Li teaches as an adjunct faculty at the Singapore Management University’s School of Law.
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