Meet George. George is a boxer. He is a good dog… lazy… but good. Fortunately, George has never bitten anyone. George will chase the occasional cat and roll around in things that smell repulsive, but he doesn’t bite.
But what if George did bite someone? Who would be responsible? Can he be sued?
Congratulations! You guessed correctly – George’s owner would be responsible for George’s actions. And no, George cannot be sued no matter how expensive or jewel encrusted his collar.
In Ontario, the Dog Owners’ Liability Act governs who is at fault when a dog bites someone. It is a fairly straightforward and no nonsense piece of legislation. It states that an owner of a dog is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by the dog on another person or domestic animal.
Moreover, the Dog Owners’ Liability Act states that the owner will be at fault for the dog bite regardless of whether the owner was negligent or even knew whether the dog had a tendency to bite. This automatic determination of fault is called “strict liability”. Dog owners are “strictly liable” for the actions of their dog, so invest in a strong leash.
Once fault is determined (which is easy due to strict liability) the dog’s owner will be on the hook to pay compensation for injuries arising from the dog bite. If a dog is owned by more than one person, then each owner will be responsible for paying compensation. Multiple owners of an offending dog are free to fight amongst themselves regarding how much compensation each should contribute, so long as they collectively compensate the injured person or persons in full.
The amount of compensation for an injury or injuries from a dog bite may be reduced if the injured person was negligent and caused the dog bite to occur, such as by putting peanut butter on his or her nose and hoping the dog would simply lick it off. Cute… but risky.
Fortunately, many homeowner’s insurance policies provide coverage for dog bites, so it is probably best to advise your home insurance company if you have a dog.
Cat, gerbil, and bunny bites are not covered by the Dog Owner’s Liability Act.