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After a Dog Bite: Who is Held Responsible?

Dog bites are becoming increasingly problematic in Canada. In 2013 alone, insurance company State Farm claims to have paid over $108 million in damages for over 3,600 dog bite claims in the country, and those numbers are for a single insurance company. If you are bitten by a dog- or if your family pet bites another person- it is important that you understand who is held responsible. 

Common Law Liability for Dog Bite Injuries 

In the summer of 2014, a Nova Scotia woman by the name of Corry MacPhee-Morrison required 200 stitches to close up a wound caused by a pit bull bite. The attack occurred at her brother’s home, and the dog belonged to the brother’s girlfriend. While MacPhee-Morrison calls the attack unprovoked, the dog owner disputed these claims and said that the animal was simply protecting his owner after MacPhee-Morrison struck her in the face. 

In these situations, the first question that may people wonder is who is responsible for the injuries. In Canada, where common law jurisdictions apply, the owner of the pet is not held responsible for a dangerous act if the behavior was not a part of the animal’s usual nature. In other words, the pet owner would need to know that the dog was dangerous before the owner could be held responsible. Likewise, if the victim was found to have provoked the animal, the dog owner may also not be held responsible for the injuries suffered by the victim. 

In the case of the MacPhee-Morrison attack, another person claimed to have been attacked by the same dog a month prior. If this story proves to be true, it will be hard for the owner to argue that she didn’t know her dog was dangerous. In these situations where the dog has shown its propensity to attack or bite people, the owner may be held negligent and liable for injuries that resulted from the animal’s behavior. 

Provinces Create Statutory Liability Laws 

Some provinces have changed common law by introducing statutes that deal with pet owner responsibility during dog attacks. Ontario’s Dog Owners Liability Act makes pet owners strictly liable for any injuries caused by their pet, and the owner will be held responsible regardless of whether they knew their animal was dangerous. Even a person who is not the dog’s actual owner, and is only watching a dog belonging to another person, they will be held responsible for injuries caused by that animal.

 Paying for the Damages 

If a dog bite happened in your home and you are sued, your homeowner’s liability insurance policy would defend the claim. Likewise, if you were bitten by a dog and filed a personal liability suit, you would be seeking compensation for your injuries from the dog owner’s homeowner’s liability policy. If the homeowner is found liable to compensate the injured party, the insurance company would pay for the damages.

 Both dog owners and Canadian citizens as a whole need to know the risks associated with dog bites and who is responsible if an incident does occur. If you suffer from a dog bite, contact us at the Law Offices of Paciocco and Mellow for assistance with your personal injury claim.