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During the pandemic, lots of people became first-time dog owners. With this added companionship also comes liability for the actions of their new pet. Unfortunately, we can’t always predict the behaviour of our dogs. Dog attacks can cause serious injuries, especially to young children who are more vulnerable. You may never think about dog attacks affecting you or your loved ones, but the World Health Organization estimates that dogs bite tens of millions of people per year.

Dog Owners’ Liability Act

Under the Dog Owners’ Liability Act (the “Act”), a dog owner is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by their dog on another person or domestic animal. The owner has a responsibility to take reasonable precautions to prevent their dog from:

  1. biting or attacking a person or domestic animal; and
  2. behaving in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of others.

The liability of the owner doesn’t depend on whether or not they know their dog’s propensity to bite or attack. It also does not require the owner to have acted carelessly or negligently. Simply put, if your dog attacks someone, you’re liable.

It’s also important to note that the word “owner” is defined to include a person who “possesses or harbours a dog”, which means individuals who do not legally own the dog, for example a dog sitter, can also be liable.

Limitations on damages and liability

The Act does provide for a reduction of damages claimed by a victim in a lawsuit if the victim is somewhat at fault for the attack. If another person is found to be responsible for the dog’s actions, the owner is entitled to recover some or all of the damages owed to the victim from that other person.

What if the victim was committing a crime on the premises at the time of the attack? For instance, if an individual broke into a home in an attempt to commit robbery. In this situation, the owner is not liable unless the keeping of the dog was unreasonable for the purpose of the protection of people or property.

It is important to know the risks associated with dog ownership. Whether you are a permanent or temporary “owner” of a dog, you should ensure your renter or home insurance policy extends coverage to damages caused by your pet.

If you have suffered serious injury as a result of a dog attack, contact Siskinds LLP for a free consultation.

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