I’m The Victim Of An Animal Attack…Get Meow-t Of Here!

 In Criminal Injury, Daryl Smith
ARTICLE BY: Daryl Smith

With the return of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! this past weekend, with its infamous Bushtucker trials, and the ever-popular David Attenborough bringing Dynasties to our TV screens, it seems appropriate to take a look at how the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) deals with crimes associated with animals.

The Reform of Animal Attacks

Due to the reforms that came into force in July 2012, for a victim of an animal attack to receive any compensation from the CICA, it must be proven that the animal was “deliberately used to inflict injury”. Despite the potentially unfair nature of this being highlighted by some MPs at the time, such as Angela Smith[i], the reforms went ahead. Since then, there have been several cases that have received a large amount of media attention due to their controversial nature.

One of these cases involved Sylvia Baillie, who was viciously mauled by a dog at her neighbours’ home shortly after she had attended a funeral. The dog, an American Akita named Kioshi, locked its jaws around the 60-year-old woman’s face, ripping her lips and cheek apart. Mrs Bailie underwent emergency surgery but was left permanently scarred and without feeling in her lips. She applied to the CICA, however, in February 2017, Mrs Baillie was told she was not entitled to any compensation as the animal was not “set” on her.[ii] This decision came after the owners of the dog, Patrick Maher and Leanne McHugh, were jailed for 12 months each under the Dangerous Dog Act and the dog was destroyed.[iii]

Leo The Cat

On the other side of the coin to the Baillie claim, the recent case of Leo the cat explores how the CICA responds to animals being the victims of criminal attacks. Maureen Newman recently sought compensation for the fiscal and emotional implications she suffered after being present when her cat was shot in the face with a shotgun at the rear of her property. The owner of the Maine Coon cat, fully named Leo Aston Martin Teca Newman, was left traumatised after hearing a loud bang and witnessing her beloved pet’s horrific injuries at the hands of an unknown assailant. Ms Newman said: “It had an awful impact. I’ve had to have private counselling. My nerves are wrecked.”

As a result of the attack, Leo sustained horrendous injuries – he is now missing part of his paw and suffered damage to his ear. Despite the best efforts of the vet, who performed a lengthy eight-hour operation which included removing the shotgun pellets from Leo’s face, his right eye could not be saved. “It was horrendous. The blood, the tears. The vet didn’t know if he would make it or not. It was touch and go.”[iv]

On top of the emotional stress caused by such a horrific act, Ms Newman also estimated that she had spent thousands of pounds on medical fees. “I’d say that between £3000 and £4000 has been spent with the vet fees, nursing fees. Even now sometimes his eye weeps.”

On 23rd October 2018, she attended a Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel in Belfast with a view of recouping some form of remuneration that the attack had caused. It is believed to be the first time the panel had considered a case regarding a domestic pet such as this one. While they do differ, the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation (NICIC) tariff is fairly similar to that of the one governing Great Britain. Neither the NICIC nor the CICA specifically mention pets of any kind, however the CICA adds a provision stating that:

“A person may be eligible for an award if they sustain a criminal injury in a relevant place which is directly attributable to being present at and witnessing an incident, or the immediate aftermath of an incident, as a result of which a loved one sustained a criminal injury…”

A loved one, under the CICA’s definition, is an individual with whom the applicant at the time of the incident had a relationship of love and affection and, if the loved one is alive at the time of the application, continues to have such a relationship. Ms Newman’s argument being that Leo fits under both of these arms and therefore the psychological injuries she suffered should be compensated.

Yesterday, Ms Newman found out she had lost her case and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service (NICTS) claimed it does not comment on the outcome of individual cases ruled on by the panel.[v] While she may not have achieved the result she would have wanted, the appeal is still noteworthy as it brings the CICA’s definition of a ‘loved one’ into question.

Many owners will tell you they see their pet as an extension of their family and so would feel aggrieved at being told they do not meet the definition of a ‘loved one’. However, had the case been successful, the proverbial floodgates would surely have opened.

Several friends share a personal bond and there are plenty of neighbours who are extremely close to one another. There are also the ambiguous and casual sexual relationships that some people choose to share, could these also meet the definition? I highly doubt that this is the last we hear of individuals appealing to the CICA regarding such issues and the fallout of this case is certainly something to watch closely.

[i] https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2012-11-07a.933.0

[ii] https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/dog-attack-victims-left-furious-9806320

[iii] https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/pair-whose-devil-dog-tore-9772847

[iv] https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/woman-seeks-compensation-for-pedigree-cat-shot-in-face-37451826.html

[v] https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/owner-whose-cat-was-shot-in-eye-loses-compensation-case-37540465.html

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