Ontario has lots of dogs. I never realized this until becoming a dog owner myself. Try to walk along a street in a residential area: there is a dog in every other house. I can now appreciate how much joy a dog can bring, but at the same time, dog ownership can sometimes cause legal problems if the dog is not under the full control of the owner.
While dog owners will be in most serious trouble if the dog attacks a person, surprisingly, all the Small Claims Court cases in which I was involved as a legal representative were about a dog attacking another dog. In such cases, the plaintiff’s financial losses usually lie within the $25,000.00 monetary jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court, which is the best forum to litigate for this sort of damages.
The legal grounds for liability of the unfortunate dog owner whose pet was not too courteous to another dog are provided by Dog Owners’ Liability Act. According to the Act, a dog owner is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by the dog. It is important to note that, under the Act, the owner is liable for damages almost no matter what. The dog owner must compensate the damages caused by the dog even if the owner thought the dog had no propensity for violence, or even if the owner was not at all negligent or at fault for the attack.
Based on this provision of the Act, in Small Claims Court, the plaintiff’s burden of proof in dog attack cases is a little lower than in other negligence cases. This means that he or she is only supposed to provide evidence that:
- the dog was attacked
- that the attack caused damages and
- that the defendant is the owner of the attacking dog.
In a small claims lawsuit, the owner of the bitten dog may be rewarded for his veterinarian and necessary medical expenses. In some cases, these may be as high as $10,000.00 or more. However, other types of damages are also available. Such damages may, for example, be compensation for the permanent loss of appearance of the plaintiff’s dog. These damages are especially likely to be awarded if the bitten dog was a successful participant of dog shows or competitions.
Sometimes, an attack on another dog can cause physical damages to the attacked dog’s owner. In one case, an elderly dog owner had quite serious cuts on her palms caused by the leash when her dog pulled away during the attack. The Small Claims Court awarded a certain amount to compensate the lady for the pain and suffering resulting from this injury. Under some circumstances, the Small Claims Court may also award the bitten dog’s owner compensation for the troubles and inconvenience that he or she experienced while dealing with the consequences of the attack.
As a defendant in Small Claims Court, the owner of the attacking dog may argue against three elements of the claim:
- The fact and circumstances of the attack
- The extent and reasonableness of the damages claimed by the plaintiff
- Causation of damages
If the plaintiff in the Small Claims Court is capable of provides solid proof of all the above, the defendant is generally left with only one option to defend against the claim. This option is articulated in Dog Owners’ Liability Act, which prescribes that the court should reduce the damages awarded to the plaintiff in proportion to the degree, if any, to which the fault or negligence of the plaintiff caused or contributed to the damages.
Additionally, our practice shows that if the attacking dog’s owner has liability insurance for his or her dog, the insurance company usually steps in, which is often helpful to both parties. In such cases the matter may be completed by way of settlement with the insurer, rather than litigation.