Owners Liable for Dog Bites

Greg MonfortonA concern of many dog owners is the extent of their liability if their dog bites someone.

A common belief is the owner is liable only if the dog has demonstrated a vicious nature and the owner is aware of it. This is not true. Under Ontario law, the owner of a dog is liable in damages for the injuries resulting from a bite on another person.

Although it appears the owner is absolutely liable if his dog bites someone, there is a possible exception. If a person is bitten or attacked while on your premises while committing or intending to commit a criminal act, you will not be liable unless the keeping of your dog on your premises was unreasonable for the purpose of protecting yourself, your family or your property.

Many dog owners believe a sign or notice indicating there is a dog on the premises will relieve the owner of liability should the dog bite someone. This also is not true. However, the court shall reduce the damages awarded in proportion to the degree, if any, to which the fault or negligence of the injured person caused or contributed to the canine assault.

Some victims have less responsibility, however, than others. A young child, for example, is more likely to be excused for his provoking behavior than an adult who should know better.

Upon finding a dog has bitten or attacked, the court has the power to order the dog destroyed if it is necessary for the protection of the public. In exercising its power to make such an order, the court may take into consideration such factors as the past and present temperament of the dog, the seriousness of the injuries caused and the probability a similar attack will be repeated.

A dog bite might sound like a fairly minor incident. It can turn into a very expensive lesson, however, for the dog owner. Therefore, dog owners should exercise great care to control their dog, and as a financial safeguard, maintain adequate homeowners insurance to cover any claims.