Cat-fight ends up in €16,000 court case

Light orange cat with large paw and claws in foreground
Cat owner is being sued for €16,000 damages after it scratched his ex-wife

A cat-lover is facing a court claim in Versailles for €16,000 from his ex-wife demanding compensation for a scratch inflicted by his cat in 2013.

The estranged couple's grandson was said to have been playing with the cat, which hid behind a curtain, and then scratched the boy when he got closer. It then both scratched and bit the ex-wife who had been trying to calm it. She says she is allergic to cats.

The bitten grandmother was treated at hospital in Versailles and got three stitches, but says her injuries kept her off work for several days and that she still has a scar.

Her ex-husband meanwhile says that the cat was merely defending itself and has produced a vet's report stating that the cat is not a dangerous animal.

Judgment will be given at the end of April, but what is the legal position?

Whether or not being scratched by a cat can cause €16,000 worth of aesthetic damage and emotion trauma is still to be decided, but why is the case being considered at all? Is a cat owner really responsible for a scratch?

In French law pet owners are responsible for damage caused by their pets. (Article 1234 of the Code Civil states "the owner of an animal, or the person using it (ie the rider/dog trainer while they are using the animal) is responsible for any damage caused by the animal, whether the animal is under their supervision, or has run away or escaped."

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As a victim, you don't have to show that the owner was at fault, merely that you suffered damage.

There can be exceptions, however: "force majeur" including an earthquake or violent storm which terrifies an animal into lashing out, would exonerate the owner from liability as would proof that the animal was responding to teasing or ill-treatment by the victim or by a third party.

But, generally speaking, if Fido bites someone, or attacks another dog, you are liable. If Black Beauty kicks someone, or wanders into their vegetable garden and ruins the crops, you are liable.

This is why home insurance (whether you rent or own) includes obligatory civil liability insurance. This civil liability covers third party damage whether it is committed by your house, (a plant pot falls off a windowsill onto someone's car), your children (junior kicks a ball through the neighbour's window), your pets (your dog digs up the roses outside the town hall), or you (you accidentally knock a Ming vase off a friend's mantelpiece).

You do not have to specifically declare your pets for them to be covered. The insurance only covers domestic animals, not wild or agricultural animals.

If you do not have house insurance, or any other insurance which covers civil liability (sometimes covered in school insurance, for example or including in your membership of a riding club) you remain liable, and will have to pay out of your own pocket.

If you are the victim and cannot agree a settlement with the animal’s owner, you can file a complaint at the Tribunal d'Instance in the area where the owner lives. If the owner is not insured and you cannot reach an agreement, you can file a complaint at the Tribunal Civil.

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