Dog bites do not normally make up a large part of a lawyer’s practice, however, they do come up. If you have been the victim of a personal injury due to a dog bite, it is important that you are aware of the issues surrounding these types of cases.
Does the liability fall on the dog’s owner?
When a dog attacks another individual the results often vary from scratches and small bites, to vicious severe and permanent physical and psychological injuries. It is the Dog Owners’ Liability Act that governs dog bites in Ontario. It makes the dog owner strictly liable for any injuries that result from their dog’s attack. In fact, the owner would be responsible for the dog’s attack even if they were unable to predict the attack, prevent the attack from occurring, or if they were unaware of their dog’s propensity to bite.
So who is an “owner” under the Dog Owners’ Liability Act? There is case law that states that anyone who is “in physical possession and control over a dog just before it bites or attacks another person or animal” should be considered that dog’s “owner.” So, we know that anyone who has possession or control over a dog is considered an “owner”.
Victims of dog bites can recover damages for a number of things including general damages for pain and suffering, income loss, future health care expenses, housekeeping and any out of pocket expenses that may have incurred as a result of the dog bite.
A review of the case law reveals a number of different things to keep in mind
- Cases where the victim suffers serious psychological injury along with their physical injuries will yield significantly higher awards. The psychological issues must be well-documented, including medical reports.
- Contributory negligence, the actions of the victim in the moments leading up to the attack, are relevant to the issue of liability. By the same token, if the actions of the dog owner are “high handed” or otherwise reprehensible, then an award of aggravated or punitive damages may be warranted.
- OHIP will have a subrogated interest in your claim. This means that whatever treatment you received, paid for by OHIP, will have to be paid back to them when your case settles. It is always important to put OHIP on notice of your claim as soon as reasonably possible.
Dog owners’ home owners insurance policy or renters policy will normally respond to the claim so it is important that you are able to ascertain the dog owner’s information including name, address, and ideally, his or her insurance policy for their home or rental property.
Dog bite cases are rare, but nontheless dreaded
Although dog bite cases are not as common as car accident cases, they can be equally as dreadful and psychologically damaging. It is important that you have your injuries (physical and psychological) well-documented by your doctor and the hospital, if necessary. If a referral to a specialist is recommended, then it is important that you follow through with this. A well-documented case has a higher likelihood of success.