Charge of the bite brigade

Garry Hertzberg, practising attorney at Dewey Hertzberg Levy and host of the Laws of Life with Garry Hertzberg on writes:

This is the story of Saartjie, the miniature Maltese poodle and beloved pet of a retired couple.

Saartie stands a full 20cm from the ground to the shoulder, about the size of a two-slice toaster, a terrifying prospect for any would-be intruder.

A few years ago, Wanda, a grandmother and her two grandchildren, an infant and a four-year-old girl who lived next door, decided to visit Saartjie’s family. They arrived unannounced and, without knocking walked in through the back door. Needless to say, Saartjie was duty bound to protect her family and stormed at the visitors, yapping and growling, causing complete chaos.

Wanda panicked and lifted the screaming little girl into the air and kicked out at Saartjie. Saartjie bit Wanda on the leg just below the knee, drawing blood. She screamed and Saartjie’s family came to her aid.

After everyone had calmed down, the wound was cleaned, Saartjie was locked in a bedroom and Wanda’s husband came to take her to a clinic for stitches.

Thereafter, Wanda decided to sue Saartjie’s family for the damages for medical bills, as well as for pain, suffering and trauma, a princely sum of R410 000. The family defended the case.

The court found that Wanda knew that Saartjie always stormed at visitors and that Wanda had been asked previously to always knock before entering. Even the children of Saartjie’s owners would knock before entering. In addition, the court stated that entering another person’s home without knocking or announcing is rude and unacceptable.

The court reiterated that it was actually Wanda’s unannounced presence in Saartjie’s territory that caused the dog to bite her. This meant that it was Wanda’s own negligence that caused her suffering.

The court let Saartjie and her family off the hook and Wanda got nothing except a big legal bill.


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