Dogs are our companions, partners and even family members.
Our relationship with them is so strong that we refer to them as “man’s best friend” (and we’re sure they have the same relationship with women).
Unfortunately, as with all relationships, things aren’t always perfect. Dogs can cause injury, and, as we all know, some injuries can be very serious, or even fatal. For those who have suffered an injury from a dog, it’s common to have some form of permanent physical or emotional scars.
So if and when a dog injures a person, who’s responsible?
In Ontario, the Dog Owner’s Liability Act imposes “strict liability” on a dog’s owner for his or her dog’s behaviour. (If the dog is owned by multiple individuals, the owners share responsibility.)
It should also be noted that the “ownership” of a dog can depend on who has control of the dog at the time of the incident. For example, if a relative of the owner is walking the dog at the time of the incident, that person could be held liable.
“Strict liability” means that, even in situations where the owner is not at fault, they are responsible for their animal’s behaviour. With exceptions for situations where the person that was attacked provoked the dog, someone injured by a dog will most likely have a good claim for compensation for physical and psychological injuries.
This liability also applies if an uncharacteristic act of an otherwise good dog causes injury (so there is no special grace for otherwise good dogs). It’s not uncommon for serious injuries to be caused by dogs who have always behaved before.
The Act also allows for dogs to be destroyed if ordered by the courts, as well as fines and even jail time for dog owners who don’t take reasonable steps to prevent attacks.
A dog doesn’t necessarily have to bite to cause harm or damage and thus create liability for its owner. Liability can arise if the dog jumps on someone, or incidentally knocks them over, or even causes them to trip and fall while running from a dog that’s running at them.
Fortunately, if your dog does injure someone, your homeowner or tenant insurance will likely cover you for these types of claims. Therefore, if you have a dog, make sure you have insurance.