Dog bites happen with such frequency that any story about them is unlikely to make the front page of the Toronto Star unless it was serious. But while they might not be worthy of a news story, they could be worthy of legal action. In this blog post I discuss the legal consequences when "man's best friend" acts in a decidedly unfriendly matter or when their over exuberance could cost you.
Recent headlines have brought to light the sad case of a Toronto dog that was killed by a neighbour's dog. The owners of the deceased dog are suing the owners and the rescue where the newly adopted dog came from. The claim is not only for the costs of cremation but also for the psychological damage done when they witnessed their pet being killed. Cases like this, while not common, have successfully gone through the court system. The unusual twist in this case is the rescue is also being sued for adopting out a banned breed in Ontario. This should serve as a wake-up call to rescues that liability can extend even after a dog has been adopted.
The Dog Owner's Liability Act
Ontario's Dog Owner's Liability Act ('DOLA') stipulates that a dog owner(s) assumes liability for damages caused by dog bites or attacks. This is strict liability test because it does not depend on an owner's negligence, fault, or the animal's known propensity to act aggressively. The exception is when a dog, while protecting private property, bites someone intending or committing a criminal act. You can also be liable if your dog jumps up on someone causing them to fall and injure themselves. Seniors and children are most likely to be injured when knocked down by an untrained dog. Owners are also liable if their dog injures or kills a domestic animal.
A recent Court of Appeal decision also expanded the definition of 'owner' under the DOLA. The judges, in Wilk v. Arbour, ruled that people who have possession of the dog, at the time of the attack, will be responsible in law as well. This opens the door for parties, other than the owner, to be found responsible and required to pay damages.
Injuries and Damages
Many times a person who sustains an injury will know the dog and the owner. But if you've been bitten by an unfamiliar dog it is important to identify the owner and obtain their contact information. If the dog is being walked by a dog walker obtain their business card or information.
Following a dog bite a person should:
- Seek prompt medical attention even if there appears to be no serious injury. If a person is suffering from shock, they may not realize the extent of their injuries. Bites and scratches can also become infected, and your doctor will want to confirm the dog is up to date in their rabies vaccines.
- Take photos of any bites or visible marks on your body, and obtain the contact information of any witnesses who saw what occurred.
- Write down your own recollection of what happened.
- Monitor and record your physical and mental health following the attack. While physical injuries may be most obvious, you may suffer from emotional or psychological problems following an attack.
If your dog is attacked you would do similar things. Take you dog to a vet immediately. While a bite may not appear to be serious, at first glance, canine teeth can penetrate deeply and cause an injury that is not visible. Infection is possible if the wound is not treated immediately. If possible, obtain the name of the dog and the contact information of the person with the dog. If they are not the owner obtain the contact information of the owner. Take photos of the wound. If the vet has to shave the dog to examine the wound take photos of the wound then. Call Toronto Animal Services (TAS) to report the incident.
The Limits of Liability
Even with the strict liability imposed by the DOLA the person's actions are also examined. If they acted negligently or in a way that contributed to or caused an attack, a court may reduce the damages they receive.
For example, if someone antagonized a dog to the point that the dog retaliated and bit them, damages would be reduced.
The majority of dog bites do not generate compensation or require the help of a lawyer. The bite may not break the skin or cause only a minor injury that heals quickly. However, if the wound is more serious or your dog is bitten, or killed, and you incurred veterinary services it is always a good idea to consult a lawyer familiar with personal injury law prior to discussing the matter in great detail with the dog's owner or agreeing to compensation if any is offered. These consultations are free.
You may desire to settle the matter informally if you have an existing relationship with the dog's owner, but it is important to be aware of your legal rights and the kind of compensation you may be entitled to before making these types of decisions. These can include medical or veterinary expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages related to the incident.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.