Dog Bites and the Dog Liability Act

Dog Bites and the Dog Liability Act

Imagine that you are out for an evening stroll in the local park and you are suddenly attacked by someone else’s pet dog.

You likely have many questions: Can you defend yourself? Can you seek compensation from the dog owner?

The Dog Owner’s Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. D. (“DOLA”) makes dog owners liable to pay compensation (damages) to a person who was bitten. A “dog owner” is defined in s. 1 as a “person who possesses or harbors a dog and, where the owner is a minor, the person responsible for custody of the minor”. The dog owner’s liability is called “strict liability” because it does not depend on the fault, negligence or knowledge of the dog owner about their dog’s proclivity to bite. Section 5.1 of the Act states: “each owner of a dog shall exercise reasonable precautions to prevent it from: a) biting or attacking a person or domestic animal; or b) behaving in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals”. Be careful, for, while it is permissible to defend oneself, the actions taken must be proportionate to the situation. If lethal force is used and it was not called for, the dog bite victim might be exposed to criminal liability (cruelty to animals, which is an offence in the Criminal Code of Canada).

Dogs of all sizes and breeds can cause serious harm to people. Evidence suggests that certain breeds are more prone to aggression. Hence, in DOLA, there is a general ban of pit bulls. Dog bites can cause a range of different injuries: physical injuries ranging from minor (e.g. an abrasion), to serious (e.g. scarring) to death; and even psychological effects. Under DOLA, the injured party can seek the compensation from the dog owner that they need to get on with their life.

Toronto personal injury lawyer and litigator Ben Azimi explains the rights and liabilities involved and recommends what practical steps you should take after a dog bite.

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