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What should I do if I get bit by a dog?

In Ontario, if you are bitten by a dog, get the name of the dog’s owner and seek immediate medical care for yourself.  Report the details of the incident as soon as possible to your local Health Unit , Animal Control and/or the police. You should also  take detailed photos of your injuries, including those to the face, neck and hands, which are often a dog’s target areas.

As the victim of a dog bite, you are not required to prove that the dog owner was negligent in order to recover damages.  All you have to establish is that 1) you were bitten or attacked; and 2) that the dog was owned by the defendant. An exception to a dog owner’s liability is if the victim was bitten or attacked by a dog protecting the owner’s property during the commission of a crime.

Who is liable if a dog bites someone?

The Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Wilk v Arbour held that the word “possesses,” in the definition of “owner” under the Dog Owners Liability Act (DOLA), includes a person who is in physical possession and control over a dog just before it bites or attacks another person or animal.

Ms. Wilk had the top half of her right thumb bitten off by the defendant’s dog, Zeus. Ms. Wilk had taken Zeus for a walk and the dog suffered what appeared to be a seizure. When the dog regained consciousness, he stood up, came out of his collar and fell several feet into a ditch. Ms. Wilk attempted to rescue Zeus but she also slipped into the ditch, collided with Zeus and he bit Ms. Wilk’s thumb.

The court reviewed the definition of “possesses” under the DOLA and determined that the person in physical possession and control over a dog just before it bites or attacks is to assume liability for the dog. The court interpreted the legislation as indicating “an intention to impose liability on persons who had less than the full collection of rights belonging to an owner but who had attributes of ownership, possession and harbouring.” The court also determined that the legislature intended to impose responsibility to anyone who is in a position of control over a dog. Possession of a dog for the purposes of liability is determined by who had possession of the dog immediately before the incident.

As a result of the Court of Appeal’s ruling, Ms. Wilk was not able to recover damages for her injuries.  However, the ruling should make it easier for victims of dog bite injuries to identify the appropriate parties in similar incidents and recover damages in the future.

How does the court determine damages?

When calculating damages, the court will  first look at the usual factors, such as the severity of your injuries as well as the impact of these injuries on your day to day life, including any time off work.  Under the DOLA , any damage award will then be reduced by the degree to which your own fault or negligence contributed to the damages.  

An example of a victim’s contributory negligence might include kicking or teasing the dog just prior to the attack. If you are the owner of a dog who has bitten someone else, and you have concerns about your liability, see our previous post Ontario Dog Bite Laws – When Your Best Friend is in the Doghouse

Dog bites are generally covered by the owner’s home insurance policy so it is not uncommon for the owner to simply pass any notice letters on to their insurance company.

How to prevent dog bites

When you own a dog it is important to take some basic precautions, such as:

  • Keeping your dog on a leash when in public
  • At home, keeping your dog in an enclosed area, not running free
  • Paying close attention to changes in your dog’s behaviour, and seeing a vet as necessary
  • Never leaving young children unsupervised with your dog.

Contact Ontario’s Injury Lawyers

If you have been injured as a result of a dog bite, or your dog has bitten someone contact us online for a free legal consultation or by phone at 1-800-563-6348 to speak directly with one of our lawyers.

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