Identify owner to pursue dog bite claim
By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
Victims of dog attacks should take steps to preserve the evidence and identify the dog owner if they wish to pursue a claim, says Toronto personal injury lawyer Andrew M. Lee.
And while a lawsuit may not be top of mind immediately after a dog bite, seeking medical attention or calling for help are some of the best ways to document an incident, says Lee, principal of Lee & Associates Personal Injury Lawyers.
“Usually authorities are called — whether that’s police, animal services or both — which will result in a record being generated,” Lee tells AdvocateDaily.com. “If the incident is properly investigated, authorities will ensure the owner is identified, including particulars such as their address and phone number.”
Often, when someone is bitten by a dog, they will want to seek medical attention to ensure there has been no spread of disease, such as rabies, he adds. Medical reports and documentation of injuries can be used for a legal claim, along with photographs and anything else that can be gathered from the scene.
It’s important to note that in most cases, the claim will only be successful if the owner is identified, Lee says.
“A very large percentage of these attacks happen in public places, like parks or streets — places where it may be difficult to identify the dog owner,” he says.
The Dog Owners’ Liability Act is the governing legislation that makes all dog owners responsible on a strict liability basis for any harm done by their pets, Lee says.
"Liability is not limited to dog owners. Individuals who have care and control over a dog, such as dog owners or other persons entrusted with the care of a dog at the time of an attack, can also be held responsible," he says. "In certain situations, parties can also be held legally liable under the Occupiers Liability Act, which makes property owners liable for injuries occurring on their property if proper care is not taken to ensure the safety of those people.
“In the majority of cases, dog owners have proper insurance to respond to the claim, whether it’s home or tenant’s insurance,” Lee says. If the dog owner has no insurance and must be sued personally, the situation is more complex.
The Act allows most claims to be settled out of court, he says. “Owners and their insurance companies recognize that it doesn’t make sense to go to trial and contest liability,” Lee says, adding most minor bites can be settled out of court within 12 months.
More serious cases, some involving death, would require more time to quantify the damages, he says.
Dog owners should understand that they’re responsible for the actions of their dog, take steps to keep them on a leash in public places and recognize they could act unpredictably in unfamiliar territory, Lee says. They should also be sure to carry appropriate liability insurance.
“Only the owner knows the disposition of a dog,” he says. “But quite often we hear the dog has never attacked or threatened anyone before, and the bite happens out of the blue. Dogs can be unpredictable and owners need to understand this. Unfortunately, attacks often involve small children.”
Parents of children who are bitten by dogs can often have their cases resolved without going to litigation, Lee adds. “Settlements involving the claims of individuals under the age of 18 need to be court approved but that’s something we can handle at Lee & Associates.”