Last updated Feb. 12, 2018.
Ontario follows a strict liability rule when it comes to dog bite cases, making it a relatively straightforward process for dog bite victims. However, even though victims don’t have to prove the dog owner was negligent, the courts will still take a close look at whether or not the victim was partly responsible for the attack.
Because proving fault is still an issue, it’s advisable that dog bite victims or their families contact a lawyer for help in filing a claim for their dog bite injuries.
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Elements of a Dog Bite Claim in Ontario
The area of the law that pertains to dog bite attacks in Ontario is referred to as The Dog Owners Liability Act found in R.S.O. 1990, c. D.16. Two important sections state the following:
- Section 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.”
- Section 2 (3) – the first part of section 2 (3) reads: “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…”
The above strict-liability statutes essentially mean that a dog owner doesn’t necessarily need to have acted carelessly or negligently in order to be liable if the dog attacks someone. If he or she owns a dog and the dog causes harm, the owner is responsible for the damages caused by the dog.
Liability in Toronto Dog Bite Cases
The second part of R.S.O. 1990, c. D.16 s. 2 (3) states: ”… 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.”
So, if the victim provoked the attack in some way, his or her degree of fault would factor into the amount of compensation to which he was entitled. Other scenarios could also reduce recoverable damages.
If a victim is partly responsible for the dog bite incident (also referred to as contributory negligence) he or she can still file a claim and recover damages, but the settlement amount will be reduced appropriately.
Here are a few common questions and answers directly related to liability and fault on Ontario dog bite cases.
Who is liable for the dog bite?
The Act assigns liability to the owner for all damages resulting from a bite or attack. This includes injuries to both humans and domestic animals. For example, you may seek damages if you were out walking your dog in a public space and a stranger’s dog attacked both you and your dog.
What if the owner didn’t know the dog was so aggressive?
The owner retains liability for the attack even if he or she was unaware of the dog’s capacity for aggression. This means the dog’s owner may be held liable even if this was the first time the dog attacked or bit a person or domestic animal.
Are there any circumstances where a dog’s owner may avoid liability?
The court may reduce your damages if the defendant can prove your actions contributed to the attack. For example, your final compensation may be reduced if the owner can prove you were provoking the dog at the time of the attack. The court will reduce your damages in direct proportion to the degree to which it finds you to be at fault for the attack.
The owner is not liable in cases where a person enters a property for the purpose of committing a criminal act. This means you cannot collect damages if the dog’s owner can prove you were trespassing on private property or engaged in theft or vandalism at the time of the attack. This applies except in cases where the court finds the keeping of a dog to be “unreasonable.”
What happens if there were multiple owners?
The Act provides that all owners will he held jointly and severally liable in cases where more than one party is identified as the dog’s owner. This means you can seek full damages from any one party (owner). In turn, that defendant can pursue applicable damages from other liable owners.
Ontario Dog Bite Settlements: Getting Properly Compensated for Your Injuries
With a dog bite claim, it’s important to consult a lawyer who handles dog bite cases to ensure your claim is presented clearly and thoroughly and that the defendant’s lawyer or insurance company doesn’t try to place blame on you. Also, your lawyer can help accurately calculate the full extent of your damages so that you can receive a fair settlement.
Dog bite attacks can cause substantial injuries leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Victims can and should be compensated for their losses — and fortunately, they often are. State Farm, for instance, paid millions in 2011 for dog bite claims in Ontario, according to Canadian Underwriter. And those settlements are just from one insurance company.
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What to Do After a Dog Bite Attack in Ontario
To best protect your health and right to compensation, follow these steps immediately after a dog bite:
- Seek prompt medical attention. Dog bites carry great risk for infection.
- Report the bite. Call Toronto Animal Services at 416-338-7297.
- Identify the owner of the dog. This is crucial for establishing liability.
- Collect and preserve evidence of the attack. This includes photos of injuries and proof of the dog’s ownership.