Liability in dog bite claims often depends on establishing ownership and control of the dog; the owner of the dog is typically at risk of being found responsible for any harm caused by their pet. However, this is not always the case. Canadian law also recognizes two main approaches to dog bite liability, strict liability and negligence, and their differences are significant. Thus, it is important to understand how each approach is applied.
What does Fault mean in a Dog Bite Case?
Being at fault, or liable, refers to the legal responsibility or obligation for one’s actions or conduct, typically in the context of causing harm, damage, or injury to another person or their property. It is a fundamental concept in civil law and is often a key consideration in legal disputes and cases.
When someone is deemed at fault for an event or incident, it means they are held accountable and may be required to compensate the affected party for the losses or damages they have suffered. Liability can arise from various situations, such as accidents, contractual breaches, professional malpractice, or intentional wrongdoing.
How is Fault Determined in Dog Bite Claims?
Fault in dog bite claims can be established through different legal principles and standards, depending on the specific are of law and provincial jurisdiction involved. However, the two main methods of determining liability include ‘strict liability’ and ‘negligence’.
The ‘Strict Liability’ Method
Strict liability is a legal principle that often applies to dog bite claims, imposing liability on the dog owner regardless of their fault or negligence. In the context of dog bites, strict liability means that the owner is responsible for any harm caused by their dog, even if they were not negligent or aware of the dog’s dangerous propensities or did not act negligently.
The Rationale of Strict Liability
The rationale behind strict liability in dog bite cases is to ensure that dog owners are always held accountable for the actions of their pets, recognizing that dogs have the potential to cause harm due to their natural instincts or behaviors. This principle places the burden of responsibility on the owner to control and prevent their dog from causing harm to others.
The Advantage of Strict Liability for Dog Bite Injury Victims
One of the key advantages of strict liability in dog bite claims is that it eases the burden of proof for the victim. Unlike negligence-based claims, where the injured party must prove that the owner failed to meet an owed standard of care, strict liability only requires demonstrating that the injury occurred due to a dog bite and that the defendant is the owner of the dog.
The ‘Negligence’ Method
Negligence is another legal principle that can be applicable in dog bite claims, alongside strict liability. Unlike strict liability, which holds the dog owner responsible regardless of fault, negligence requires establishing that the owner failed to exercise reasonable care in preventing the dog bite incident.
How is Negligence Established in Dog Bite Injury Claims?
Compared to the strict liability method, negligence-based dog bite claims require a higher burden of proof. This is because it involves demonstrating that the dog owner’s actions, or lack thereof, fell below the standard of care expected of a reasonable person in similar circumstances.
In order to prove that a dog owner acted negligently in the context of a dog bite claim, plaintiffs must typically prove the following elements:
Duty of Care
The plaintiff must demonstrate that the dog owner owed a duty of care to prevent harm to others. Thankfully, for victims of a dog bite injury, dog owners generally have a duty to take reasonable precautions to prevent their dogs from causing injury to others. It is usually not a hard hurdle to climb.
Breach of the Duty
The plaintiff must show that the dog owner breached the expected standards associated with their duty of care by failing to act reasonably under the circumstances. This could include actions such as not properly restraining the dog, allowing it to roam freely, or failing to warn others about their dog’s aggressive tendencies.
The plaintiff must establish a causal link between the dog owner’s breach of duty and the resulting dog bite incident. They must demonstrate that the owner’s negligence directly led to the injury, and that the injury sustained was reasonably foreseeable.
The plaintiff must provide evidence of the actual damages, or losses, suffered as a result of the dog bite. Common examples are incurred medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and issues performing valuable housekeeping chores.
Is it Possible for a Defendant to Successfully Defend an Allegation of Negligence in the Context of Dog Bite Claims?
Yes, defendants have the opportunity to present various defenses to challenge the plaintiff’s allegations and mitigate their own liability under the negligence method. These defenses sometimes aim to demonstrate that the defendant acted reasonably and should not be held responsible for the injuries caused by the dog bite. Other defenses are centered on the plaintiff contributing to their own demise.
Voluntary Assumption of Risk
This defense asserts that the injured party knowingly and willingly assumed the risk of being bitten by the dog. It typically applies when the injured person had prior knowledge of the dog’s aggressive tendencies or was aware of the potential dangers associated with the specific circumstances. By voluntarily exposing themselves to the risk, the injured party may be deemed partially or fully responsible for the injuries suffered.
Contributory or Comparative Negligence
These defenses assert that the injured person’s own negligence or carelessness contributed to the dog bite incident. Contributory negligence claims that the injured person’s own actions were a direct cause of the injuries, while comparative negligence compares the degree of fault between the parties involved. If the injured person is found partially at fault, their compensation may be reduced proportionally to their level of negligence.
This defense argues that the injured person provoked the dog, thereby initiating the aggressive behavior that led to the bite. Provocation can range from physically taunting or threatening the dog to engaging in behavior that incites the dog’s protective instincts. If the defendant can prove that the injured person provoked the dog, it may lessen or eliminate their liability.
If the injured person was unlawfully on the defendant’s property at the time of the dog bite incident, the defense of trespassing may be raised. This defense asserts that the defendant had no duty to protect the trespasser from the dog, as the injured person had no legal right to be on the premises.
Lack of Ownership or Control
If the defendant can establish that they were not the owner or had no control over the dog at the time of the incident, they may avoid liability. For example, if the dog was in the care of a dog walker or under the supervision of another person, that individual may be primarily responsible for the dog’s actions.
Which Approach Does the Province I Reside in Use?
In many provinces throughout Canada, including Ontario, a Dog Owners’ Liability Act is in effect. These pieces of legislation typically apply the ‘strict liability’ method for assessing a dog owner’s liability. Unfortunately, in Nova Scotia specifically, no such act exists. However, this does not mean that victims of dog bites within the province cannot claim for compensation.
In ordinary circumstances, the negligence standard will apply during claims against dog owners in Nova Scotia. As indicated already, dog owners owe a duty of care to prevent their dogs from injuring others. If it is found that a dog owner failed to meet the owed standard of care, it will result in a finding of negligence for any reasonably foreseeable injuries caused by their dog.
However, according to Nova Scotia’s Occupiers’ Liability Act, property owners can be held responsible too; even if they do not own a dog. Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, the occupier of a premises has a duty of care to ensure that visitors or individuals lawfully on the property are reasonably safe. This duty extends to keeping the premises in a reasonably safe condition and taking reasonable steps to prevent harm to visitors. In the context of dog bite claims, this means that an occupier of premises may be held liable if they were aware of a dangerous dog on their property and failed to take reasonable precautions to protect visitors from potential harm.
Contacting a NOVA Injury Law Lawyer is the best thing to do if you are Injured because of a Dog Bite!
Contacting a NOVA Injury Law lawyer, after a dog bite injury, is crucial. Determining liability in a dog bite claim can sometimes be complex in the context of a negligence assessment. Thankfully, our lawyers can evaluate the circumstances surrounding the incident, gather evidence, and assess the potential liability of the dog owner, property owner, or any other responsible parties. Further, regardless of the liability method used, they can also assess the full extent of your damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and future rehabilitation costs. This better ensures that you receive fair compensation for all of your losses, both economic and non-economic, following settlement negotiations or adjudication on the merits. While we handle your claim, you can focus on getting better. Reach out and book a free consultation today!