Vindication for victim of dog mauling
After months of being accused on social media of criminal conduct, a man whose arm was ripped off when he was mauled by dogs in Rowallan Park received a resounding exoneration in the Port Elizabeth High Court on Tuesday – with the judge also holding the owner of the animals liable for the damages suffered.
Casual labourer Gerald Cloete, 42, sued dog owner Christiaan van Meyeren for R2.3m after the horror attack by three pitbull-type dogs on February 18 2017.
The court must still decide on the amount of damages to be paid to Cloete.
In South African law, the owners of domestic animals are held strictly liable for any damage caused by their pets, except in a very narrowly defined number of cases.
Judge Murray Lowe said there was no reason not to apply the law in this case.
Cloete’s lawyer, Wilma Espag van der Bank, said on Tuesday that the attorneys had not yet been able to give Cloete the news as they had not been able to locate him.
“We told his family and they are very happy,” she said.
“We were looking for him all afternoon. We do not know where he is.
“His family aren’t able to find him.”
In his judgment handed down on Tuesday morning, Lowe described Cloete as a convincing witness.
Rowan Street, where the attack took place, was one of the areas frequented by Cloete, who did odd jobs and collected rubbish for a fee.
After the mauling, some social media users claimed – wrongly – that Cloete must have been in Van Meyeren’s yard at the time, suggesting that he had probably been trying to break in.
Lowe, however, found that Cloete had been walking in the street innocently.
“There was no fault on the part of Cloete,” he said.
“He was an entirely innocent passerby on a public road.
“He was in Rowan Street minding his own business.”
He found that as Cloete walked past Van Meyeren’s home, he had heard the sound of dogs running behind him just before he was attacked and pulled to the ground.
“He had done nothing whatsoever to cause or provoke the attack,” the judge said.
“The attack was brutal despite his initial attempts to ward this off and he was very seriously bitten, in fact ultimately having his left arm amputated at the shoulder in a subsequent surgical intervention.
“[Cloete] was saved from worse injury, or perhaps death, by the extremely courageous conduct of a passerby, Jacques van Schalkwyk, 44, who, without regard for his own safety, fought the dogs off Cloete and then kept them away from him, he ultimately also being attacked by the same dogs – for which he is to be highly commended,” Lowe said.
He described Van Meyeren and his wife Charline’s evidence, and their insistence that the dogs were kept behind a locked gate, as “far from impressive” and, in instances, contradictory.
Lowe said he would accept that the gates were broken open and left open by an intruder as the family was not home at the time of the attack.
However, he ordered a punitive cost order against Van Meyeren for initially denying the dogs belonged to him even though both he and Charline, after they saw the dogs covered in blood, knew it was their animals involved in the attack.
Cloete’s counsel, Pieter Mouton, also requested a cost order, saying they’d had to procure and call witnesses to prove that the dogs belonged to Van Meyeren.
Van Meyeren’s attorney, Christo Potgieter, said he would study the judgment and then take instructions on how to proceed with the matter...
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