58470
Achieving-Justice

Dog law needs bite

Should a “you break it you bought it” type accountability apply to dog attacks?

It does in Ontario, where they have enacted a Dog Owners’ Liability Act

Legislation can be difficult to understand. But not the key provision in this act:

  • “The owner of a dog is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by the dog on another person or domestic animal.”

How simple and straight forward is that?

Things are different in British Columbia. A recent explanation of how our laws work is provided by Judge Ted Gouge in Carr v. Johnston, 2016 BCPC 0181, under the heading “The Legal Responsibilities of Dog Owners."

He starts out with the reasonable proposition: “One might think it reasonable that pet owners should simply be responsible for personal injury or property damage caused by their pets," and then goes on to explain how that is not necessarily the case.

A dog owner in British Columbia escapes civil accountability by proving that there was nothing in their dog’s history that led the owner to expect that the dog might attack.

It is sometimes referred to as the “one free bite” rule.

If your dog has never before bitten anyone, you are not accountable for the first time it does. It’s not quite that simple, but pretty close.

But what dog owner, after their dog has attacked someone, is going to fess up about the dog’s previous behaviour?

That problem is compounded by the fact that the least responsible dog owners are the ones most likely to own unpredictable and dangerous dogs. And irresponsible people are perhaps the least likely to be honest and forthright when faced with the possibility of having to compensate a victim.

Unless there is a public record of a previous attack, because of dog control involvement, how to you get around the owner simply saying “Goodness, I had no idea my dog would ever do that. It’s certainly never happened before?"

Lawyers pursuing civil accountability for dog attack victims wear more of a “private investigator” hat than a lawyer one. In addition to other investigative steps, friends and neighbours of the dog owner are interviewed in the hopes that previous aggressive behaviour was witnessed.

Though even if friends and neighbours had witnessed previous aggressive behaviour, their relationship with the dog owner might get in the way of their own willingness to be forthright.

With a lack of honesty, one free bite can turn into 50. Our dog accountability laws in British Columbia are truly a dog’s breakfast!

And why should a dog owner get “one free bite” anyway?

Consider a model pet owner who enrols their animal in all sorts of obedience training. And a dog that has never exhibited anything of aggressive behaviour.

It’s an animal! Animals, by their very nature, have some degree of unpredictability.

If I choose to own an animal and choose to have it off leash without a muzzle, shouldn’t it be me instead of an innocent victim who shoulders the financial burden of an attack?

That’s the way it is in Ontario, and I think it’s time we do the same here. It’s as easy as creating the political will to copy and paste Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act into British Columbia’s law books.

Please send a link to this column to your MLA if you agree.

COMMENTS WELCOME

Comments are pre-moderated to ensure they meet our guidelines. Approval times will vary. Keep it civil, and stay on topic. If you see an inappropriate comment, please use the ‘flag’ feature. Comments are the opinions of the comment writer, not of Castanet. Comments remain open for one day after a story is published and are closed on weekends. Visit Castanet’s Forums to start or join a discussion about this story.



More Achieving Justice articles

58829
About the Author

Paul Hergott began practicing law in 1995, in a general litigation practice. Of the various areas of litigation, he became most drawn to, and passionate about, pursuing fair compensation for injured victims. This gradually became his exclusive area of practice.

In 2007, Paul opened Hergott Law, a boutique personal injury law firm in the Central Interior, serving personal injury clients from all over British Columbia. Paul’s practice is restricted to acting only for the injured victim, never for ICBC or for other insurance companies.

Paul became a weekly newspaper columnist in January of 2007, when his first column entitled “It’s not about screwing the Insurance Company” was published. 

Please feel free to email or call Paul (1.855.437.4688) with legal issues you might like him to write about in his column, or to offer your feedback about something he has written.

Email:   [email protected]
Firm website:  www.hlaw.ca
Achieving Justice Legal Blog:  http://www.hlaw.ca/category/all-columns/
One Crash is Too Many Road Safety Campaign: www.onecrashistoomany.com
Google Plus:  https://plus.google.com/+HlawCanada/posts
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/personalinjurylawfirm
Twitter:   twitter.com/Hergott_Law



53367
The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories



52157


58859