Court holds woman responsible for attack on girl by her two pit bulls

Published Jun 14, 2024


A dog owner failed to convince the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg that she was not responsible for the injuries inflicted on a girl by her two pit bulls when they attacked her.

Susanna Swanepoel approached the high court on appeal after the previous court ruled that she should pay for the girl’s medical expenses and general damages.

Mark Reynecke sued Swanepoel after his daughter, J, was attacked and mauled by two pit bulls in the back garden of a property belonging to Swanepoel.

The attack happened in November 2022. The previous court ruled that the dog attack was foreseeable and that Swanepoel did not provide evidence of the steps she took to prevent it.

During the appeal, Reynecke said Swanepoel had a duty of care to the general public, and in particular to J, and that she had to guard against the attack that took place.

He said Swanepoel had breached that duty by keeping dangerous dogs on the premises when she ought reasonably to have foreseen that the dogs would attack and cause injury to J.

He further added that she should have kept them locked in a secure enclosure, and that she failed to warn J that the dogs were dangerous.

In response, Swanepoel said she indicated that the female dog had puppies, hence it was isolated and kept in a separate enclosure on the porch. She added that she warned J, as she warns all visitors, that the female dog had puppies and it might be more protective than usual.

Through her legal representative, she argued that Reynecke had failed to demonstrate that the attack on J was foreseeable and that she had no case to answer.

However, the judge held that Reynecke had established foreseeability in the evidence he presented in court.

“Ms Swanepoel’s failure to testify caused the court below to draw an inference against her... The court below found that Ms Swanepoel had wrongfully and negligently failed to prevent the injuries that J sustained.

“No criticism was advanced of any other aspect of the approach or the conclusions of the court below, which I consider to be correct in every respect. The appeal fails,” said Judge Stuart David James Wilson.

Judge Wilson further added that there was more than enough evidence before the court for it to form the view that the attack on J was foreseeable.

“Ms Swanepoel’s failure to lead evidence to rebut the prima facie evidence that the attack on J was foreseeable and in fact foreseen, was more than enough for the court to be satisfied that negligence was established, and that judgment should be given for Mr Reynecke.”

Judge Wilson said there was no reason for Swanepoel’s appeal to succeed.

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