When Your Dog Bites, Are You Liable?

There have been two recent news stories about children being attacked and bitten by a dog. Although the breeds that made the news were both pit bulls, the reality is that most breeds are capable of attacking people and causing severe injury. So when a dog attacks and bites a person or another dog, who is legally liable for the injuries?

In Canada, our courts apply the principle of scienter, which essentially means if the bite came out of the blue with no warning or history, the owner is not found liable. Basically, every dog is entitled to one bite. Once a dog has bitten someone or demonstrated a propensity to bite a person or another dog, or act aggressively such that a bite is likely, then the dog owner will be held legally liable for the injury, loss and damage another person or dog has sustained.

If as an owner you know or ought to have known your dog has a propensity to bite another dog or person, then you may also be held liable when your dog does bite someone, even if that is the first bite. If your dog bites a person or another dog, you may have insurance coverage for the injuries and damage caused to others.

The typical homeowner or tenants policy will provide liability coverage for you and your family living with you for compensatory damages you become liable to pay for bodily injury or property damage caused to others which was unintended by you. A business that keeps guard dogs to protect their premises, may also have coverage under their commercial policy.

So if you own a dog, check with your insurance broker to make sure you have liability coverage should the dog bite a person or another dog. If you know your dog is aggressive or has bitten someone already, take measures now to muzzle, control, and train or rehabilitate your dog now to avoid an incident as you will likely be held liable for any injury, loss, or damage they cause to others.

If you are the victim of a dog attack, seek legal advice from a personal injury lawyer right away concerning your ability to seek compensation from the dog owner. Most lawyers will offer a free, initial consultation so you understand your rights and the time limits for pursuing an action against the dog owner.