If a dog attacks your dog, it can be a traumatic experience—for both you and your dog. If your dog suffers an injury as a result of the bite or attack, you are likely wondering what to do. After taking your dog to the veterinarian for treatment (which may include X-rays, ultrasounds, surgery, vaccinations, medication, stitches, etc), your next thought is likely to be how to pursue the at-fault dog owner for compensation for vet bills and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Can I Sue If My Dog Was Bit By Another Dog?
In Ontario, you can sue if your dog is bitten or attacked by another dog. The Dog Owners' Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. D.16 makes a dog’s owner responsible for damages caused by their dog, whether their dog bit another person or another dog. Section 2(1) of the Dog Owners’ Liability Act is the relevant part of the law that imposes liability on a dog 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.
The Act is clear that dog owners are strictly liable for any damage or injury caused by their dogs, including damage arising from a bite or attack by the dog on another dog. That is true even if the dog had no history of violent or aggressive behaviour.
Who Do I Sue If My Dog Was Bitten or Attacked By Another Dog?
Section 2(1) of Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act, cited above, refers to an “owner” of a dog. Obviously, a dog’s owner is responsible for paying damages if sued—but who is an “owner” when it comes to civil liability? The Act itself contains a definition of who is an owner in relation to liability for a dog:
“owner”, when used in relation to a dog, includes a person who possesses or harbours the dog and, where the owner is a minor, the person responsible for the custody of the minor; […]
As can be seen from the definition of “owner” in the Act, the responsible party is not limited to the person whose name is on the dog licence. It includes any person who has the dog in their possession or care, which could include a dog-sitter, dog-walker, etc. It also includes the parents of a minor if the dog is owned by or in the possession of a minor. In fact, section 2(2) of the Act addresses the possibility of more that one owner, and specifies that where there are multiple owners, they share liability for any damages:
2 (2) Where there is more than one owner of a dog, they are jointly and severally liable under this section.
When you bring a lawsuit arising from a dog bite or attack, you must name the dog owner(s) and any other responsible parties as defendants. In many cases, the dog owner’s home insurance policy covers the claim, so their insurer will respond to your lawsuit. If there is no such insurance coverage, the owner(s) will be personally responsible for paying damages awarded in the lawsuit.
What If The Dog Owner Says My Dog Was At Fault Too, Or Blames Someone Else?
You should expect that the defendant in a lawsuit (i.e., the dog’s owner(s) and any other responsible parties) will raise all possible defences to your claim. That may include allegations that your dog was trespassing on their property when the bite or attack occurred; for example, if your dog escaped from your yard or was out for a walk off-leash. It is also common for defendants to point to actions that provoked the dog, instigating it to bite, attack, or act aggressively.
If the defendant can prove fault or negligence on the part of the plaintiff, the damages awarded will be reduced by the degree to which that person’s fault or negligence contributed to the damages. Section 2(3) of the Dog Owners’ Liability Act is the key provision that deals with this legal concept, known as “contributory negligence”:
Extent of liability
2 (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.
So, if you or your dog played a blameworthy part in the incident, damages will be reduced by the degree of fault assigned by the court (for example, if there is a finding that the plaintiff was 15% at fault, the damage award will be reduced by 15%).
Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act also says that if the defendant can prove fault or negligence on the part of any other person, the owner can seek contribution from that person in proportion to the degree to which that person’s fault or negligence contributed to the damages. That is in section 2(4) of the Act:
Contribution by person at fault
2 (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.
Dog bite claims can get complicated quickly, involving multiple defendants and in some cases third party claims for contribution and indemnity.
Get Advice From An Experienced Dog Bite Lawyer in Oshawa
Oshawa lawyers at Kelly Greenway Bruce know that dog bite injuries can cause serious and long lasting damages. You have options if your dog has been bitten or attacked by another dog, or if you or a loved one has been hurt by a dog bite or attack. Please contact Kelly Greenway Bruce today to talk to an Oshawa dog bite lawyer who can help you understand your legal rights and options for obtaining financial compensation.
We have experienced dog bite lawyers in Oshawa and Lindsay who are ready to guide you through the claims process. Even if the injuries appear minor, we welcome you to contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation.