How do I prove a dog bite case in Ontario?

Dog bite cases fall under what is called strict liability law. The strict liability rule provides that liability that does not depend on proving actual negligence or intent to harm. While dog bite victims don’t need to prove the dog owner was negligent, the courts will however review the circumstances to determine of the dog bite victim was in part responsible for the incident.

Statutory Authority for Liability

In Ontario, the Dog Owners’ Liability Act (as at October, 2018) sets out the law as it relates to holding dog owners and others responsible for injuries sustained by dog bite or attacks. That Act states as follows:

Civil Liability

Liability of owner

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.

Where more than one owner

(2) Where there is more than one owner of a dog, they are jointly and severally liable under this section.

Extent of liability

(3) 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, but 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.

Contribution by person at fault

(4) An owner who is liable to pay damages under this section is entitled to recover contribution and indemnity from any other person in proportion to the degree to which the other person’s fault or negligence caused or contributed to the damages.

The Act in essence provides that a dog bite victim does not need to prove that the dog owner acted negligently or even carelessly. In simple terms, once the victim proves that they were injured by a dog and identifies the dog owner, the owner will be held liable and compensation will be ordered for the injuries sustained by the victim.

If the dog owner is able to establish based on the evidence that the victim did something that contributed to the dog attack incident, under section 2(3) of the Act, the Court can reduce the amount of compensation ordered. This usually involves the victim having provoked the dog attack in some way (overly exciting the dog, taking food away from the dog, hitting the dog etc…). Each case is decided based on their own facts.

Who can be held liable in dog attack cases?

Generally speaking, the dog owner will be held liable. In some cases, property owners and landlords can be held liable under the Ontario Occupiers Liability Act. It is rare but it is possible. In other circumstances, the person who was in possession of the dog at the time of the attack or who “harboured” the dog may be held liable. Each case will be assessed based on its own facts.

Can I still obtain compensation if I contributed or caused the dog attack?

In short, generally yes. The amount of compensation you receive will be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to you. For instance, if you are awarded $100,000 in damages and were found 25% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $75,000 (25% reduction).

Can I claim damages if my dog or other pet was injured by a dog?

Yes, compensation can be awarded for injuries sustained to your dog or other pet if attacked and injured by another person’s dog.

Also, dog owners may be held responsible for damage to property caused by their dogs.

The dog owner says they own the dog jointly with someone else, who do I sue?

In such a case, the Act provides that all dog owners are liable and so you would sue all dog owners. They are each liable to pay your damages and the Court will determine to what degree each is responsible. However, you can claim the full amount awarded from any of the dog owners. The dog owners will claim contribution and/or indemnity from each other.

The dog owner was unaware that their dog would attack and there was no prior history of aggression by the dog, can I still get compensation?

Yes. The fact that the dog owner had no prior knowledge that their dog would be aggressive or if there is no history of prior aggression, it is irrelevant because dog owners are strictly liable in dog bite or attack cases. It also does not matter of this was the first time the dog attacked anyone.

Why is it important to hire a lawyer in dog bite or attack cases?

Dog bite liability cases can be complex. It is important to hire a lawyer as soon as possible after the incident so that important evidence can be obtained and preserved. It is important for your lawyer to obtain witness statements, identify the dog owner and anyone else that may be responsible in the eyes of the law. Your lawyer will quickly obtain police reports, incident reports and a copy of the by-law officer’s file. Your lawyer will quickly mail out notice letters.

Your lawyer will be able to comprehensively assess all the types of damages you may be entitled to receive and work hard to obtain all the documents needed to support your claims, including medical records and expert reports from treating physicians.

Your lawyer can ensure that you meet any important deadlines and limitation periods that may apply to your case.

Your lawyer can also investigate the availability of insurance coverage for your damages.

Your lawyer can guide you on what to do to better your chances of success in your case and what evidence you should gather to support your claims.

If you have been injured in a dog bite or dog attack case in Ottawa or anywhere in Ontario, we can help. Call us for a free consultation, or send us an email with any questions you may have about your situation.

Marc Quinn
Ottawa Dog Bite Lawyer