A Dog Bit Me. Now What?
Dogs are lovely companions and we often consider them as members of the family. However, even the gentlest pet can become ill-tempered when scared, stressed, or ill. In Ontario, if a pet has injured you, you are entitled to seek compensation.
If you have been bitten by a dog, promptly follow these steps to protect your health and right to compensation:
1. Seek immediate medical attention. Dog bites can pass on diseases and can also lead to infection.
2. Report the bite. Call your local animal services department to report the incident.
3. Identify the dog owners and get their contact information. This includes the registered owner of the dog and/or the person looking after the dog (i.e. the “dogsitter”) at the time of the attack.
4. Collect and preserve evidence of the attack. Take photos of your injuries, gather proof of the dog’s ownership, and record the contact information of any persons who witnessed the attack.
Once you have completed these steps, it is time to see a personal injury lawyer experienced with dog bite claims. In Ottawa and across Ontario, you have two years from the date of the dog bite incident to commence a court action. However, it is advisable to seek counsel as soon as possible.
The first thing you must prove is liability. In Ontario, dog owners are strictly liable for any damage or injury caused by their dogs. They do not necessarily need to have acted carelessly or negligently in training or supervising their pet. Rather, they will be liable for damages, even if they acted completely reasonably.
As a victim, you merely need to prove two things to demonstrate liability:
(i) that the dog in question bit you, and
(ii) that the person you are suing is the dog owner.
Where there is more than one owner, they are jointly and severally liable. This means you can seek full compensation from any one owner. In turn, that owner can pursue applicable damages from other liable owners.
Further, you can also pursue a claim for compensation against the property owner (in addition to the dog owner) if you prove that the property owner exercised control and assumed responsibility over the property and/or the dog.
Proving your damages
Once you have proven liability, the question remains: how much should you be compensated for your injuries? This amount will either be negotiated by your lawyer in a settlement or determined by a court if the case goes to trial.
Damages have been awarded for:
• pain and suffering,
• out-of-pocket expenses,
• medical and rehabilitation expenses,
• loss of income,
• loss of competitive advantage,
• loss of business opportunity, and
• other special and general losses.
The amount you recover will depend on the severity of the bite, the consequences you have suffered as a result of the bite, and whether you contributed to the attack through your own unreasonable behaviour. For example, if you aggravated the dog by taunting or provoking him, you may be held partially liable for the incident. In such circumstances, your recovery may be reduced because of your contributory negligence. Similarly, if you were on the dog owner’s property to commit a criminal act at the time of the incident, you are unlikely to be compensated.
Often, the dog owner’s home insurance policy will cover these damages. This is often true regardless of whether the incident occurred at home or elsewhere.