As a dog owner, it pains me to have to write this article because in the process of doing so, I am also acknowledging that some animals through no fault of their own and through the neglect of their owners, may face the consequences of attacking another person or pet.
That being said, a few colleagues of mine have reported dog attacks with significant injuries and I believe this information is important for any Ontario resident to consider if they are victim of a dog attack.
The main problem with animals in the context of law, is that you can never know for certain what they are thinking or what they will do. Because of this inability to properly communicate, a lot of the responsibility for the actions of an animal may fall on their owners, as reflected in Ontario statute.
What Should I Do Immediately After an Attack?
First of all, medical attention should be immediately sought after being bitten or attacked. Victims may not know if an animal is up to date with shots, or if they may carry any other transferable diseases or bacteria that can spread to open wounds.
Other information that should be gathered as soon as possible include:
- Name, address and other identity information of the pet owner
- Names and contacts of any witnesses to the attack
- Pictures of the injuries
- Pictures of the property where the attack happened (i.e. if the animal escapes from a fence/gate, door, etc.)
- Pictures of the animal that attacked, if possible
Who Do I Report the Incident To?
The details of the attack should also be reported to a local health unit (i.e. family doctor, hospital, etc.), as well as animal control services and/or the police. Reporting the incident should be done as soon as possible so that investigations can be conducted in a timely manner, and any relevant information can be properly revealed early on.
What is an Owner?
Specifically for a dog, an owner is defined under the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. D. 16 (hereafter “DOLA“) includes a person who possesses or harbours the dog and, where the owner is a minor, the person responsible for the custody of the minor.
Where there is more than one owner, the DOLA states that all owners are jointly and severally liable.
The case of Purcell v. Taylor (1994), 120 D.L.R. (4th) 161 (Ont. C.J.), specifically dealt with the definition of “harbours” under the DOLA. Based on a review of cases under common law and under American statutes, Borins J. held at para. 34 that a person does not harbour a dog “unless he or she exercises some degree of care or control over the dog.” In other words, harbouring a dog is not merely allowing it to be in the home with the owner (e.g. if the dog’s owner is visiting family or friends.)
However, if a property owner aside from the dog’s owner exercises control over and assumes responsibility over the property and/or dog (e.g. if they agreed to ‘dogsit’), they may also be sued in a claim for compensation if the dog attacks someone.
When is the Owner Liable for a Dog Attack?
The purpose of the DOLA is to place strict liability on dog owners for any injuries caused by the dog. Dog owners are required to exercise reasonable measures to prevent their dog from attacking or injuring a person or another domestic animal or pet. They are also responsible to reasonably prevent their animal from behaving in a way that poses a menace to the safety of persons or other domestic animals or pets (e.g. preventing their dog from running across the street and causing an accident.)
It is unnecessary for a Dog Owner to have knowledge of the propensity of the dog’s willingness to attack, nor does it matter if there is fault or negligence on the part of the owner him or herself.
Liability is automatically found pursuant to the DOLA where two elements are established:
- The person was bitten or attacked by a dog; and
- The dog was owned by the Defendant
As long as these two elements are found, the dog owner is liable for damages.
What If I Wasn’t Physically Injured by the Dog?
If a dog causes injury, whether it is physical, psychological or emotional, the victim can receive compensation regardless of whether the dog actually bit or attacked the victim.
There need not be an actual bite or physical contact with the dog and this may apply in circumstances such as where the dog’s ferocity or behavior causes psychological or emotional damage such as phobia.
Also, even in circumstances where a victim is not injured in a dog attack, general negligence principles may still hold a dog owner liable under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.2. Since dogs are still considered property, the court could hold the dog owner liable as a ‘property owner’ provided that the attack occurred at the dog owner’s real property, premises or house.
Damages may also be awarded where a dog has caused physical injury to another pet.
What if The Victim is Contributory Negligent for the Attack?
The case of Strom v. White 1994 O.J. No. 2604 held that an owner is responsible for injuries caused by an attack from their pets. However, damages may be reduced in circumstances where the Plaintiff’s own fault or negligence caused or contributed to the damages such as unreasonably provoking a dog to react violently. In circumstances where children unreasonably provoke the animal to attack, the courts will analyze the facts based on whether the child’s parent/guardian failed to properly supervise the child.
Can I Claim Pain and Suffering (General Damages) for a Dog Attack?
Yes. Depending on the facts, you may be entitled to general damages. The range in dog bite cases are extremely variable, from at least $2,500 (Collins (Litigation Guardian of) v. St. Amour 1996 O.J. No. 485) up to $60,000 (Zantingh v. Jerry 2013 O.J. No. 6226).
Compensation is assessed in court by considering:
- Future medical care costs (e.g. surgery, medication costs, etc.)
- How the victim’s life has been affected by the attack, including how your family has been affected
- How serious and permanent the injuries are
- If there is any loss of income due to the victim missing work due to injury
- Out of pocket expenses including prescriptions, assistive devices, housekeeping or attendant care (if the victim can no longer look after themselves or their home), etc.
What Other Compensation Can I Claim?
Besides general damages, you may also be entitled to special damages including:
- Income loss
- Housekeeping and maintenance expenses
- Attendant care assistance
- Physiotherapy and other rehabilitation expenses
- Prescriptions, assistive devices or other prescription costs
- Psychological counseling and psychotherapy
- A Family Law Act Claim (FLA Claim)
- Subrogated OHIP Claim (i.e. If you are rewarded damages in a non-motor vehicle accident claim, the government may be able to recover the OHIP costs incurred in your treatment)
Will the Owner Pay Out of Their Own Pocket if They Are Sued?
In most cases, the dog owner’s home insurance policy will cover the damages. However, there may be some exceptions to this fact and it is important that owners confirm their coverage if their pets cause an injury or other damage.
Ontario holds dog owners in strict liability for the actions of their pets and any injury that may arise from their dog’s attack on other people or domestic animals.
Should someone fall victim to a dog attack, then it is the dog owner’s responsibility to pay fair and reasonable monetary compensation as established by the courts.
We can never know for certain if a dog will attack or bite. Many factors could contribute to a dog’s propensity to bite and it is ultimately the responsibility of the dog owners to control their pets at all times.