Who Is Liable For Injuries Caused by a Dog Attack?

Generally, When a Dog Attacks the Owner is Strictly Liable For the Resulting Injuries. The Victim Is Without a Need to Prove That the Dog Owner Was Negligent. The Victim Needs Only to Prove Dog Ownership As Well As Severity of Injuries and Losses Arising From the Dog Attack.

Lawsuit Document Involving Dog Bite Allegations

The law in Ontario that focuses upon the legal issues involving a dog attacks is the Dog Owners Liability ActR.S.O. 1990, c. D.16 ("DOLA").  The DOLA is known in law as a strict liability statute. As a strict liability statute, DOLA codifies a legal principle into a rule that, without the statute, would differ. Without DOLA, the legal principle that would exist would require persons injured by a dog to prove that the injury was caused by wrongdoing, meaning some type of unreasonable conduct, by the owner of the dog. With DOLA, the strict rule of law prescribes that a owner is liable; and accordingly, the victim of a dog bite needs only to prove the ownership of the dog without a need to prove wrongdoing by the dog owner.  The DOLA specifically states:

Liability of Owner

2 (1) The owner of a dog is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by the dog on another person or domestic animal.

Where More Than One Owner

(2) Where there is more than one owner of a dog, they are jointly and severally liable under this section.

Extent of Liability

(3) The liability of the owner does not depend upon knowledge of the propensity of the dog or fault or negligence on the part of the owner, but the court shall reduce the damages awarded in proportion to the degree, if any, to which the fault or negligence of the plaintiff caused or contributed to the damages.

Contribution By Person At Fault 

(4) An owner who is liable to pay damages under this section is entitled to recover contribution and indemnity from any other person in proportion to the degree to which the other person’s fault or negligence caused or contributed to the damages. 

Accordingly, a dog owner may be found liable for the conduct of a dog regardless of whether the dog owner acted carelessly or negligently.  If the dog causes harm, the owner is responsible for the harm.

Exception to The Strict Liability Rule

There is one exception to the strict liability standard imposed by the DOLA whereas section 3(2) provides that if a person is bitten or attacked by a dog while committing, or attempt to commit, a crime, the dog’s owner is without liability, “unless the keeping of the dog on the premises was unreasonable for the purpose of the protection of persons or property.

Who Is Liable For a Dog Bite?

The DOLA assigns liability to the owner for all harm resulting from a bite or attack. The liability arises for both injuries to humans and injuries to another domestic animals.  For example, if you are walking a dog within a public area and a stranger's dog attacks you or your dog, the owner of that dog will quite likely be liable for the injuries as a matter of strict liability.  Furthermore, the liability arises even when the dog owner was without any knowledge that the dog was, or may be, aggressive.  This is true even for a first time bite or attack.

Contributory Behaviour

If an owner can prove that the injured person, or owner of an injured domestic animal, contributed to the bite or attack, the owner may be successful in minimizing liability.  For example, if the owner of the attacking dog is able to prove that the injured person was provoking the dog, or in another way acted inappropriately in such a way as to cause or contribute to the dog attack, or extent of the injuries, a dog owner may be relieved of some or all liability; however, the DOLA remains such that the presumption of liability remains upon the dog owner; and accordingly, albeit perhaps an improper use of a criminal law term in a civil law context, the dog owner is presumed guilty (liable) until proven innocent (without liability).

What Happens If There Is More Than One Owner?

The DOLA provides that all owners will be jointly and severally liable in cases when more than one person is the dog owner.  This means that an injured person can bring liability claims against all owners of the dog, or just one owner, and may seek to recover full damages from any person identified as the dog owner.

What Proof Is Required to Make a Case?

As above, a dog owner is strictly liable for the harm caused by a dog; and accordingly, proof of careless conduct is unnecessary. to establishing legal liability for the conduct of the dog; however, a victim of a dog bite or attack must still prove that harm occurred and need to prove the extent of that harm in monetary terms and thereby prove an amount that the injured person is entitled to.  Doing so will require:

  • The severity of the injuries;
  • The medical expenses incurred;
  • the length of time off work for recovery;
  • The other relevant factors, if any.

What Should a Victim of a Dog Attack Do?

If you are injured by a dog bite or dog attack:

  • You should seek medical attention as necessary;
  • You should contact your local animal services board or your local police services;
  • You should obtain the identity details including name and address of the dog owner; and
  • You should preserve any evidence of the bite or attack which should include obtaining statements from any witnesses as well as making a temporaneous note or statement of your own which while the details are as fresh in mind as possible.

What Can Be Done?

In most cases, a settlement may be available from the insurance company of the dog owner; accordingly, if you are injured by a dog bite or dog attack, or by any domestic animal owned by another person, contact United Legal Services to discuss your rights.

Summary Comment

A dog owner is strictly liable for a dog bite or dog attack.  Strict liability imposes liability upon the dog owner without the need of negligent conduct by the dog owner.  Simply said, the dog owner is liable just by being the owner.  However, such is without saying that the victim is without need to prove the extent of harm for which the dog owner should be held liable.  Furthermore, a dog owner is with a right to minimize liability by proving contributory negligence by the victim such as where the victim provoked the attack or otherwise caused or contributed to the attack.

United Legal Services provides legal services for dog bite victims located in Markham, Barrie, Hamilton, Kingston, London, among other places!

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