To many, a dog is a faithful companion and a vital member of the family. They are known to be loyal, affectionate, and protective. There are almost eight million canines in Canada according to a recent nationwide survey and, for the most part, they are well behaved and present no danger to those around them.
However, under certain circumstances any dog can bite, no matter the breed or the size. In fact, it has been reported that there are about 500,000 dog bites each year in this country, and children are most likely to be the victims. These bites can cause serious injuries requiring medical attention, such as shots, stitches, physical rehabilitation and even surgery. An attack can be traumatizing, leaving life-long emotional scars.
It can be a mistake to minimize the damage a dog bite can inflict. If you have been attacked, it is in your best interest to consider your legal options. The team at Gluckstein Lawyers is here to offer advice if you have been injured.
Dogs Can Bite for a Variety of Reasons
There are many reasons dogs can bite. The most common is a reaction to something, according to the American Kennel Club. Stress can cause a canine to bite as a defence mechanism. They can attack because they are startled, scared or if they feel threatened. They can also strike out to protect something they value or because they are not feeling well or are injured. Even the gentlest dog can become overwhelmed and frustrated. Of course, some canines are just aggressive.
The reason really does not matter if you have been seriously injured. What you should know is that the Dog Owners' Liability Act imposes strict liability on owners for the actions of their dogs. That means that if you have been bitten by someone's dog, the owner is liable.
It is important to note that a dog bite claim is not the same as one for a car accident or a slip and fall where you must prove negligence. A dog owner will be liable even if their dog is otherwise friendly with no history of aggression. When it comes to dogs, the mere fact that there is a bite makes an owner automatically responsible for your damages, even if the owner took reasonable steps to prevent the incident. The exception would be if you were trespassing or committing a crime.
You Have a Part to Play
If you are visiting someone's house with permission, walking down the street, or at a park and you are bitten by a dog, you can file a claim against the owner.
Of course, there are some provisos. Ownership of the dog is not always obvious. The law defines the owner as the person who possesses or harbours the dog at the time of the attack. For example, if the dog is in the care of a family friend or a dog walker at the time of the bite, they could be the ones held liable, possibly along with the owner. And if you provoke the dog or fail to get permission to interact with a dog from the person controlling it, your damage award is likely to be reduced. That is known as the principle of contributory negligence. If you ask the owner if you can pet their dog and they say no but you do it anyway and get bitten, it is only fair that you share some responsibility for your injuries. You also assume risk by interacting with any dog you do not know.
You should always be respectful of approaching someone's dog on the street. Always ask permission if you want to pet a dog. That little terrier with a wagging tail may seem cute and harmless, but even a small dog's bite can puncture the skin and cause lasting damage. Owners should also be honest about their pet's temperament and set the appropriate boundaries.
Things to avoid:
- touching a dog that is sleeping or eating;
- petting a dog not with their owner;
- approaching a dog that is injured or sick;
- a growling or barking dog; a dog that appears to be hiding;
- approaching a dog chewing on a toy; and
- leaving a child unsupervised with a dog.
What To Do After a Dog Bite
Your welfare is paramount if you are attacked by a dog. Obviously if you have been seriously injured you should seek immediate medical attention. That could mean calling 911. If you are able, it is important to document the incident and get the name and address of the owner of the dog. Treat it like an accident scene because that is what it is. That means getting contact information of any witnesses. Take photos of your injury while it is still fresh and report the incident to local authorities.
Make every effort to confirm whether the dog has had its required shots and communicate that information to the physician treating you. While rabies in dogs is rare, it should not be ignored. The Government of Ontario advises that rabies attacks your central nervous system and adults may see symptoms within two weeks of exposure. It moves slowly through the body before making its way to the brain. It is almost always fatal unless treated before symptoms develop.
If you have been seriously injured you should file a police report. They can launch an investigation and get bylaw officers involved who can help confirm the health of the dog and ensure its shots are up-to-date.
We Are Here to Help
Never assume that the injury you have suffered is insignificant. Even the smallest wound can have lasting consequences. Left untreated, a dog bite can lead to infection.
Keep in mind that the psychological impact of being attacked by a dog cannot be understated. Dogs are everywhere. If you develop a fear of them after being bitten there really is not much you can do to avoid them. Just about anywhere you go you are bound to see or hear dogs and it could become quite traumatizing.
You may be entitled to damages for any economic losses, including lost wages (if you are forced to take time off work) and out-of-pocket expenses for medical specialists or therapy. You could also be eligible for damages for pain and suffering because of the physical and emotional impact of your injury.
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.