While most dogs are safe and gentle, dog attacks on people sometimes occur and can result in injuries. If this, unfortunately, happens to you, after seeking medical attention and making a report with the local police division about the attack, you should consult with a personal injury lawyer to find out what steps to take next.

This article looks at who is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by a dog and what types of damages might be able to be claimed. Finally, we look at a recent case in the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario where a woman claimed a range of different types of damages following a dog bite that left her with a torn rotator cuff. 

Liability for Dog Bite Injuries

In Ontario, the owner of a dog is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by the dog on another person or domestic animal. According to the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, “owner” includes a person who possesses the dog. Where there is more than one owner, they are jointly liable. 

Liability is not affected by the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s temperament. Additionally, liability does not depend on fault or negligence on the owner’s part. However, the court may reduce damages if the fault or negligence of the plaintiff caused or contributed to the injury. 

Damages for Dog Bite Injuries

Often claims are settled outside court. Sometimes a case will make its way to trial and a judge will be called upon to decide an appropriate award of damages. 

An attack victim might be able to claim a range of different damages, depending on the circumstances. These include compensation for medical expenses, general damages to compensate for non-monetary aspects such as pain and suffering, and damages for loss of income.

Plaintiff Sustains Injuries from a Dog Bite

In Constantinou v Stannard, the 60-year-old plaintiff went to her father’s property to meet with electricians working on the property. The defendant rents accommodation on the property. When the plaintiff arrived on the property, she saw the defendant in her van with her dog.

The defendant asked the plaintiff if she had a rope that she could use to tie the dog up outside while the electricians were working inside. The plaintiff had a lunge line which she offered to the defendant. When the plaintiff reached towards the open door of the van to pass the line to the defendant, the dog went over the defendant and bit the plaintiff’s right hand. The dog released the plaintiff’s hand and bit her left elbow. The plaintiff struggled hard to get away from the dog who was very close to her face. The defendant pulled hard on the dog’s leash in an attempt to restrain him.

The plaintiff saw a doctor who washed the wound, applied a bandage and prescribed antibiotics. She took ten days off work due to bruising, numbness and pain in her arm. The puncture wound healed but the left arm required further treatment. Tests revealed a tear in her left rotator cuff and a compressed nerve. The plaintiff underwent surgery and commenced physiotherapy but continued to experience reduced motion and pain on the left side.

Parties Disagreed about the Assessment of Damages

It was not disputed that the defendant was liable for damages resulting from her dog’s bite. The defendant did not argue that the plaintiff contributed to the incident. The only issue was the assessment of damages.

General damages

Justice Speyer found that the dog bite caused the shoulder injury and was not contributed to by her pre-attack physical condition. In order to determine general damages, her Honour needed to compare the plaintiff’s anticipated lot in life after the dog bite with that which she would have enjoyed but for the dog bite. 

Justice Speyer observed that the plaintiff could no longer participate fully in the leisure activities that brought her pleasure and has permanent physical limitations. The plaintiff sought general damages of $150,000. Her Honour considered a range of factors in arriving at an award of $100,000, including the age of the plaintiff, the nature of the injury, the severity and duration of her pain, her ongoing disability, her emotional suffering, and the impairment of her lifestyle, family and social relationships, and physical and mental abilities.

Loss of income

The plaintiff, a part-time personal support worker, claimed damages for loss of income, both in respect of missed time at work in the past and for future losses. 

For past loss of income, Justice Speyer looked at the difference between what she might reasonably have earned from the date of the bite to the date of the trial, and her actual earnings. Her Honour awarded almost $60,000, using what the plaintiff earned in the year of the bite as the baseline for the calculation. 

However, Justice Speyer refused to award damages for future loss of income. Although the plaintiff did not plan to retire before 70, she had suffered a range of unrelated medical challenges that interfered with her ability to return to work. There was no reasonable and substantial possibility that she would be capable of returning to work but for her shoulder injury. 

Future care needs

The plaintiff sought $440,000 for future care needs and relied on expert evidence from a life planner. Justice Speyer had to determine what costs the plaintiff may reasonably be expected to incur for future care to put her in the position she would have been in but for the dog bite, and then calculate the present cost of providing that care. This was difficult due to deficiencies in the evidence and the plaintiff’s unrelated health challenges. 

Her Honour made an award of almost $200,000, which was for anticipated expenses such as physiotherapy, housekeeping and home maintenance, adjusted to convert future costs to a present value. 

Out of pocket expenses and OHIP’s subrogated claim

Justice Speyer also allowed a claim of approximately $20,000 for expenses incurred because of the dog bite, as supported by receipts, for things including physiotherapy and medication. Her Honour also awarded almost $8,000 to satisfy OHIP’s subrogated claim. 

Contact Tierney Stauffer LLP for Advice about Dog Bite Injury Claims

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, we provide effective legal representation for dog bite and animal attack victims in Ontario, tailored to the individual needs of each client. Our personal injury lawyers help you to seek compensation by making a claim for your medical and other expenses endured as a result of the dog attack. Contact us at 1-888-799-8057 or reach out online to book a consultation.

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