Understanding Owner Liability for a Dog Bite
Dog bites and attacks are thankfully rare. However, when they do happen they can result in serious injury and disability for the victim, and serious consequences for the dog and their owner.
If you are attacked by a dog, is anyone liable?
In Canada, our courts apply the principle of scienter.
If the dog bites or acts aggressively for the first time without warning or prior history, the owner will not be found liable for the first bite that comes out of the blue.
If the dog had a history of aggressive behavior indicative of a risk of biting another dog or a person, then the owner may be held liable for failing to keep the dog under control and warn persons of their propensity to attack or act aggressively.
If a bite is likely given the dog’s history, then the dog owner will be held legally liable for any injury, loss and damage another person or dog has sustained.
Mr. Justice Cummings of the BC Court of Appeal in Janota – Bzowska v. Lewis,  BCJ No. 2053, summarized this principle of law as follows:
Generally, dangerous animals can be classified in two categories: there are those which are inherently dangerous and those that are normally tame but where individual members of the group act ferociously or viciously. Fleming in The Law of Torts, Seventh Ed., (Sydney, Australia: The Law Book Company Limited, 1987) puts it this way at p. 331:
Dangerous animals are divided into two classes: (i) animals ferae naturae, like bears and lions, which by reason of their species are normally dangerous, although individuals may be more or less tame; and (ii) animals mansuetae naturae, like cows and dogs, which, as a kind are ordinarily harmless, though individuals may harbour a vicious or dangerous disposition. Animals of the first category are never regarded as safe, and liability attaches for the harm they may do without proof that the particular animal is savage. … But as regards the second class, it must be shown that the particular animal was dangerous and that the defendant knew, or had reason to know it.
A dog owner may have liability insurance coverage for defending any action against them or to pay for the loss and damages caused by their dog.
If you own a dog, you should check with your insurance broker on your liability coverage in the event of a dog bite, attack or act of aggression by your dog.
If you know your dog is aggressive or has bitten before, take measures now to muzzle, control, train and rehabilitate your dog to avoid an incident as you will likely be held liable for any injury, loss, or damage they cause to others.
Note as with all personal injury claims, there are time limits for pursuing an action for compensation. If you are the victim of a dog attack, contact our personal injury lawyers for a free legal consultation concerning your ability to seek compensation from the dog owner.