Dog Owners Beware: There Is No “Free Bite”

By Pace Law | September 10, 2012

Toronto Personal Injury Lawyer Albert Conforzi: If you have been bitten or otherwise seriously injured by a dog, you will want to know that in Ontario, you do have rights and recourse against dog owners.

In Ontario, The Dog Owners Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990 c D.16 is the applicable statute. Under this Act, the owner of a dog is strictly liable for any damage or injury caused by the animal.

Once you prove who owns the dog, and that the dog injured you, the owner must pay damages as assessed by a court or upon settlement for that damage or injury. Of course, sometimes just finding out to whom a dog belongs can be a challenge, as evidenced here. Even after you’ve discovered the name of the owner, the next hurdle you will face is whether that owner has any form of insurance that would cover the damages.

Prior to The Dog Owners Liability Act, the law used to be that if an owner was unaware of their dog’s propensity to bite, that owner was not necessarily responsible for damages to an injured person. Hence the colloquial expression, “one free bite,” before liability would be imposed. That is no longer the case.

Even if you are just taking care of a dog for a friend, and that dog injures someone while in your possession, you will be treated as an owner for the purpose of the Act. (s.1, harbouring a dog). It doesn’t matter whether you “own” the dog or not, nor whether you knew if the dog had a history of biting people. Again: no free bites.

Still, the Act isn’t completely unsympathetic to the dog owner, or perhaps to the dog itself.

If you have been injured and are pursuing a dog owner, you might be told that you are partially at fault. For example, if you were taunting the dog and it attacked, you might face an apportionment for your actions.

In one recent case, an 11-year-old girl was found 25% at fault for going into her grandmother’s dog pen, without permission or supervision, where she was nearly mauled to death, and was left with gruesome scarring. The Toronto Star notes that Ontario Superior Court Justice Darla Wilson reduced the $245,000 award — originally set by another judge — by 25 per cent because she found the victim, now 18, contributed to her own misfortune.

Assignment of some blame notwithstanding, it is important that you recognize your right to compensation if you have been attacked by a dog. After you have sought medical attention, be sure to consult a lawyer as soon as possible.

Albert Conforzi is a personal injury lawyer with Pace Law Firm in Toronto. His posts generally appear on Mondays.