Most people treat their pets like family – but, unfortunately, dogs can be unpredictable and lash out unexpectedly. So, what happens if your dog bites someone in Ontario and the victim suffers injuries?
Today, we’ll be providing information on dog bite attacks for both owners and dog bite victims. This information is intended to briefly overview the laws and issues that owners and victims should know. If your dog has bitten a human, or you are the victim of a dog bite attack, we encourage you to consult a skilled personal injury lawyer for further guidance.
Ontario Laws Regarding Dog Bites
The Dog Owners’ Liability Act, RSO 1990, c. D.16 governs what happens if your dog bites someone in Ontario. Specifically, this legislation holds owners liable for injuries their dogs cause to humans and domestic animals – regardless of whether they knew the dog was likely to bite or attack.
If the following conditions are met, an individual can bring an action against an owner for an attack:
- The dog bites or attacks a person or domestic animal;
- The dog has behaved in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of people or domestic animals; or
- The owner did not take reasonable precautions to prevent their dog from biting or attacking a person or domestic animal or behaving in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of people or domestic animals.
The phrase “attacks” is not defined in the Dog Owners’ Liability Act. However, it’s important to note that some incidents involving dogs may not be defined as an attack. For example, our blog post covering a case where a dog ran into a person at a dog park is an example of the court determining that the incident was not an “attack.”
Owners Must Take Steps to Prevent Dog Attacks
Under the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, dog owners must take reasonable precautions to prevent their dogs from biting or attacking people or domestic animals or behaving in a manner that threatens safety.
“Reasonable precautions” might look different depending on the circumstances. However, if your dog has a history of biting or attacking, you’ll want to consider implementing reasonable precautions, including:
- Maintaining control over your dog in public spaces (e.g., always keeping your dog on a leash)
- Completing a training or desensitization program with your dog
- Using a dog muzzle or other appropriate equipment on your dog
Owners Are Liable for Dog Attacks
Dog owners are liable for any damages resulting from a bite or attack by their dog on another person or domestic animal under the Dog Owners’ Liability Act.
If more than one person owns a dog involved in a dog bite attack (for instance, spouses who co-own a dog), they are jointly and severally liable for the resulting damages.
Dog Attacks on an Owner’s Property
Property owners and occupiers must take reasonable care in Ontario to ensure their guests are safe. If an owner knows, or ought to know, that their property is dangerous or unsafe and does not take steps to warn visitors, and they are injured, the injured party may have a claim against the owner or occupier.
However, in dog attack cases, the Dog Owners’ Liability Act places a stricter standard on owners and occupiers where a dog attack occurs on their property. Rather than applying the less restrictive occupier’s liability standards to dog attacks (where you are responsible for damages if you “knew or ought to have known” about a danger), dog owners are strictly liable for any resulting damage arising from a dog attack on their property.
Damages Available in Dog Attacks
If a plaintiff can prove that they have suffered loss or damages due to a dog bite attack, they can subsequently claim compensation for the following:
- Injuries: “injuries” in personal injury claims can be physical or psychological. Bear in mind that even if an individual has not suffered physical injuries due to a dog attack, they may be able to claim damages for emotional or psychological symptoms suffered due to the attack.
- Lost Wages: for example, if the individual had to take time off work due to the attack.
- Medical Care: in particular, if your dog bites someone in Ontario and their injuries result in scarring, they may be entitled to seek costs for cosmetic surgery to reduce or remove their scarring. Alternatively, if a domestic animal is injured in a dog bite attack, the claimant may seek damages for veterinary expenses.
- Out-of-Pocket Expenses: if a victim pays out of pocket for expenses relating to a dog attack, such as medication.
- Property Damage: for example, if your dog kills a domestic animal, the animal’s owner may seek damages for the loss of the animal.
Sadly, in some cases, the court can take further action against the dog who bit or attacked the human or domestic animal. If a court finds that a dog has behaved in a manner that threatens public safety, the court may order the dog to be destroyed. If the dog is a member of a breed specified in the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, the Act requires that the dog be put down. For further information, see our blog post on legal risks for pit bull owners.
What Happens If Your Dog Bites Someone in Ontario: Conclusions
The most important way to avoid dog attacks as an owner is prevention – ensuring that you take reasonable steps to avoid dog attacks will not only help you avoid causing loss or damage to others but bring you peace of mind at the end of the day.
If the unexpected happens, whether you have dog bite liability coverage through your homeowners’ insurance is worth noting. These funds can help cover expenses or settlements relating to dog bites or dog attacks. If you carry pet insurance, you may also have coverage if your dog bites or attacks a human or domestic animal.
Skilled Personal Injury Lawyers Serving Eastern Ontario and North Bay
At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our skilled personal injury lawyers have many years of experience going up against insurance companies to get full and fair settlements for our clients. We will advise you of the best course of action to obtain the maximum possible settlement so that you can recover financially and move on with your life.