According to statistics, approximately 42 dogs bites occur every hour in Canada. In Ontario alone, there are over 5000 dog bites reported every year. Significantly more dog bites and other forms of dog attacks go unreported.
Victims of dog attacks are often wary of reporting incidents or seeking compensation because they know the dog and its owner. They know it to be a “good” or “friendly” dog. However, it is important to remember that dog ownership is a responsibility. If you are injured in a dog attack, you are entitled to compensation from the dog’s owner.
In Ontario, the Dog Owner’s Liability Act (DOLA) has been in force since 1990. It deals specifically with the civil liability of dog owners. In short, this Act holds a dog’s owner, or owners, strictly responsible for damages resulting from an attack by the dog, whether the attack be on a person or other domestic animal such as a family pet.
As soon after the attack as possible, obtain the dog owner’s name. In order to be properly compensated you must be able to identify the dog’s owner and address.
The DOLA specifies that this responsibility covers any and all damages caused by the dog, regardless of the owner’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of the dog’s propensity to attack.
What this means is that even if a dog has never bitten or attacked anyone before, the owner is still liable. This is a huge change from prior law, which essentially forgave a dog for its first bite. This change in law is a recognition by the Ontario government that dog bite victims are victims, and they should not have to go through the difficult, if not impossible, task of showing that the dog has a history of aggression before being compensated for an attack.
What is also important to note is that you need not be bitten by a dog for the DOLA to apply or for you to have suffered damages. Being knocked down by a dog, or suffering injuries while trying to escape from an attacking dog, can entitle you to damages.
The only exception to the general rule of liability is in a situation where someone is bitten or attacked on the owner’s premises while in the act of, or with the intention of, committing a crime. In such cases, the owner is not liable for any damages sustained.
If you are the victim of a dog bite or attack, you can be compensated for any damages sustained. Among other things, this includes pain and suffering, past and future medical costs, housekeeping, transportation, and lost wages.
While the physical injuries may seem most obvious to you, it is important to take note of any psychological injuries you may have sustained, such as increased anxiety or post traumatic stress.
The amount of compensation you are entitled to can depend on many factors including the severity and permanence of the injury, such as embarrassing and/or disfiguring scarring or nerve damage.
While a dog owner cannot use the excuse that the victim in some way caused or contributed to the attack to escape complete responsibility, proof of such fault or negligence on the victim’s part can be used to reduce the victim’s damage award. A common example would be disregarding a “Beware of Dog” sign while visiting a neighbour’s house. If that dog were to attack you, your neighbour would still be liable for your damages, but the court may for example find you 10% negligent in disobeying the sign, thus your damages would be reduced by 10%.
If you’ve been bitten by a dog, first and foremost seek emergency medical attention. Even a bite which may seem minor at first can turn in to a serious infection. The dog may carry a disease, and it is important that a thorough medical examination be conducted to insure nothing was passed on to you.
As soon after the attack as possible, obtain the dog owner’s name. In order to be properly compensated you must be able to identify the dog’s owner and address. Dog owners are directly responsible for compensating you for your damages, but most dog owners’ homeowner or tenant insurance policies cover liability for dog bites, making recovery of compensation easier to access.
Next, contact your local animal control department to report the incident. They will launch an investigation, and ensure that if the dog poses a danger to the public, that appropriate measures are taken to prevent this.
Remember to take photographs of your injuries, noting who took the photos, the date and time. Keep all originals.
Continue to document treatment received and progression of your injuries.
Seek legal advice from a lawyer experienced in dealing with dog bite/attacks.
A Final Note
I am a dog lover and proud owner of two dogs but I also understand that dog ownership carries with it a certain duty to others. I must ensure that my dogs are well behaved and pose no danger to others. Any responsible dog owner should and will understand that if their dog causes harm to another that they are liable for the damages that result, so there is no reason to fear seeking the compensation you deserve, even if the dog owner is someone you know.