It’s the Dog Days of Summer – What you should do when a Dog Bites

We’re into the dog days of summer now. Those hot, sultry days where even my normally active and very sociable Boston Terrier needs to cool off in the shade or in the lake. At my family cottage, this provides us with some relief because he’s usually busy trying to visit our neighbours – most of whom, happily welcome his visits.

While my Boston Terrier has never shown any signs of aggression, if something were to ever spook or scare him causing him to bite or attack a person, I would be responsible for the resulting damages, even if I couldn’t have predicted or prevented it from happening. This is because in Ontario we have a law called the Dog Owner’s Liability Act, which makes the “dog owner” legally responsible for all injuries and losses regardless of fault or negligence.

Interestingly, it’s not just me who could be held legally responsible if my Boston Terrier ever bit or attacked someone. The term “dog owner” is defined under the Act to include anyone who “possess or harbours a dog”. This means that someone who isn’t the legal owner of a dog, could be held legally responsible if at the time of the dog attack or bite they were in physical possession and control of the dog. As the Court of Appeal in Ontario made clear in the leading case on this issue, Wilk v. Abrour, 2017 ONCA 21, the definition of “dog owner” can even extend to someone who simply agrees to take a dog for a walk.

To give a concrete example, let’s say I’m up at my family cottage with my Boston Terrier. I want to go into town to run some errands, and while I’m gone, my cousin agrees to watch my dog. If during that time anything happens, my cousin could be held responsible as the “dog owner”. You should keep this in mind next time you agree to dog walk or dog sit.

While I have no concern about my Boston Terrier biting or attacking anyone, it’s always helpful to know what do if the unexpected occurs:

If you’re bitten…

1) Get the contact information (name and address) of the dog owner;

2) Get the contact information for any independent witnesses;

3) Seek medical attention:

  • depending on the severity of the injury go to either a hospital emergency department (more severe) or an urgent care clinic (less severe);
  • the hospital or clinic will report the incident to the local public health and animal control authorities;

4) Take pictures of your injury;

5) Cooperate with the local public health and animal control authorities:

  • they will confirm if the dog is up to date with its vaccinations; if not, the dog may need to be quarantined and/or you may need get rabies vaccinations;
  • depending on the circumstances, such as if the dog has a history of aggression and the severity of the incident, the dog owner could be charged or ordered to take other steps to ensure that the dog is no longer a threat to public safety;

6) Reach out to a personal injury lawyer to discuss whether it makes sense to pursue a claim in your circumstances; the amount of compensation you could be entitled to will depend on the individual circumstances or your case and the severity of your injury.

If you’re the dog owner…

1) Get the contact information (name and address) of the person who was bit;

2) Cooperate with the local public health and animal control authorities:

  • they will want proof that your dog is up to date with its vaccinations, so have the contact information for your dog’s vet available; if you cannot provide proof that your dog is up to date with its vaccinations, you will likely be ordered to quarantine your dog for a period of at least 10 days;
  • if your dog has a history of aggression, be prepared that the authorities may take other steps to ensure that your dog is no longer a threat to public safety;

3) If you have either home owner’s or tenant’s insurance, reach out to your insurance broker or insurer to confirm that your insurance policy will respond if the individual who was bitten pursues a claim; if you receive a notice letter or are otherwise contacted by the individual who was bitten, be sure to report it to your insurance broker or insurer immediately, so that they can take the appropriate steps to investigate and respond to the claim;

4) If you do not have any type of liability insurance and are contacted by the either the person who was bitten or a legal representative on their behalf, consider reaching out to either a paralegal or a lawyer for advice:

  • a paralegal may be able to handle the matter if the individual is seeking $25,000 or less in compensation; this means that the claim would be brought in Small Claims Court;
  • if the individual has serious injuries and is seeking more than $25,000 in compensation, you should contact a lawyer.
Andrew Sprung
Written by

Andrew is a lawyer with Findlay Lawyers practicing in Hamilton and Brantford. He is committed to advocating on behalf of individuals who have been injured or otherwise harmed. At Findlay Lawyers he loves being part of a team that focuses not just on his clients’ lawsuits but also on maximizing their medical recovery. Andrew takes pride in getting to know his clients and securing them the compensation they deserve.

Andrew attended law school at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. In addition to his law degree, Andrew hold an Honours Degree in History from the University of Toronto, where he graduated with High Distinction. Andrew was called to the Bar in 2014 and is a member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association and the Hamilton Law Association.