Personal Injury: DOG BITE

Animal Owner Liability - personal injury
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In Ontario, according to the Dog Owner’s Liability Act, if a person is attacked by a dog it is not necessary to prove that the owner or custodian of the dog was negligent. It is important however to identify the persons responsible and to confirm the availability of insurance coverage to pay your claim. Each year, many people, especially, children and seniors, are seriously injured as a result of dog bites. Moreover, there might be even a reason for a wrongful death. No doubt, you’ve heard horrible stories or watched TV documentary about dog’s attack that caused a child’s death. If you or some of your friends or relatives has suffered a dog bite or attack and don’t know what to do, this information might be of help.

Dog Bites and Animal Attacks

We consider dogs our friends and helpers. However, dog’s attacks with injuries from very minor to fatal – are not so uncommon. For example, Wikipedia says that 2% of the US populations, 4.7 million people, are bitten each year and 50% of attacks occur on the dog owner’s property. Despite domestication, dogs, like their ancestors wolves, remain cunning, swift, agile, strong, territorial and voracious – even small ones have large, sharp teeth and claws and powerful muscles in their jaws and legs and can inflict serious injuries. There are some signs of an imminent attack: stiffened front legs and a raised ridge of hair along the spine or a tail held high over the back. Dogs also have far superior hearing and olfactory senses than humans, as well as having the advantage of reading the body language of other humans and animals, and so are able to pick up signs which we humans may miss were they to come from a dog, or may not have learned to read in dogs.

Possible reasons for a dog’s attack

  • Attacking a dog
  • Challenging for food or water. For example, removing food from a dog or intervening between a dog and its food.
  • Territoriality and possessions. Dogs are hunters. They have an instinct to defend themselves and those they consider their “pack”, and to defend their territory, which may include areas they consider “theirs” or belonging to their family. Any dog is unpredictable in the presence of an intruder, especially but not always a burglar.
  • Predatory instincts. Dogs retain many of their predatory instincts, including the chasing of prey. Running away from a dog or behaving in a manner suggesting weakness, may trigger predatory behaviors. For example, the instinct to jerk one’s hands upwards away from an inquisitive dog may elicit a strong impulse to grab and hold.
  • Pain or sickness. A sick or injured dog, or an older animal, like people, may become “cranky” or over-reactive, and may develop a tendency to become “snappish”.
  • Failure to recognize insecurity or fear. Like humans, dogs that feel insecure may ultimately turn and defend themselves against perceived threat. It is common for people to not recognize signs of fear or insecurity, and to approach, triggering a defensive reaction.
  • Intervention when dogs fight. When dogs fight, a human stepping in between, or seeking to restrain one of them without due care, may be badly bitten as well.
  • Threatening body language. For example, direct staring. It is especially dangerous when on the same visual level as the dog (such as small children.
  • Novice dog’s owners might not know how to properly socialize a dog.

Breed-specific characteristics

Dogs of all breeds and sizes could be dangerous, although large dogs are capable of inflicting more damage quickly. Certain breeds are more aggressive towards humans and potentially more dangerous. One of the most popular dog breed is the Labrador Retriever. Dogs with strong chase instincts, (e.g. collies, shepherds), may fail to recognize a person as a being not to be herded. They may fixate on a specific aspect of the person, such as a fast-moving, brightly colored shoe, as a prey object. This is probably the cause for the majority of non-aggressive dogs chasing cyclists and runners.

Ontario Legislation

The Ontario government is protecting Ontarians by legislation to ban pit bulls and toughen penalties for the owners of any dog that poses a danger to the public. The legislation set up the fines up to a maximum of $10,000, and allow for jail sentences of up to six months for individuals who own dangerous dogs that bite, attack or pose a threat. The legislation also allows fines up to a maximum of $60,000 for corporations who own such dogs.

Ontario Breed-Specific Legislation

The Ontario government is protecting Ontarians by legislation to ban pit bulls and toughen penalties for the owners of any dog that poses a danger to the public. Except as permitted by the Dog Owners’ Liability Act and Public Safety Related to Dogs Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005, no person shall,

  • own a pit bull;
  • breed a pit bull;
  • transfer a pit bull, whether by sale, gift or otherwise;
  • abandon a pit bull other than to a pound operated by or on behalf of a municipality, Ontario or a designated body;
  • allow a pit bull in his or her possession to stray;
  • import a pit bull into Ontario; or
  • train a pit bull for fighting

Pit bulls are “grandfathered” if they were owned by an Ontario resident on August 29, 2005, or born in Ontario within 90 days after August 29, 2005. These dogs are subject to strict regulation and control, including the following:

  • They must be muzzled and kept on a leash no more than 1.8m long when in public or not on enclosed property
  • They must be spayed or neutered unless a veterinarian certifies the dog is physically unfit to be anesthetized
  • They are automatically euthanized if a court finds they have bitten, attacked, or posed a menace, or if their owners are found to be in violation of the law or a related court order.
  • Their owners are entirely liable for any and all damage caused by a bite or an attack

A document purporting to be signed by a member of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario stating that a dog is a pit bull within the meaning of this Act is receivable in evidence in a prosecution for an offence under this Act as proof, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the dog is a pit bull for the purposes of this Act, without proof of the signature and without proof that the signatory is a member of the College.

Vulnerable Population Group

Small children are especially prone to being misunderstood by dogs, in part because their size and movements can be similar to prey. Also, young children may unintentionally provoke a dog (approaching a chained dog, trying to hug or kiss an unfamiliar animal, pulling on ears or tails is common, surprising a sleeping dog etc.) because of their inexperience. To avoid potential conflicts, even reliably well-behaved children and dogs should never be allowed to interact in the absence of an adult who knows and understands the dog’s personality and trained cues.

The age group with the second-highest amount of fatalities due to a dog attack is 2-year-old children. Over 88% of these fatalities occurred when the 2-year-old child was left unsupervised with a dog(s) or the child wandered off to the location of the dog.

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