Many dogs are normally well-behaved. Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case, and sometimes dogs may attack people. The reality is that when a dog attacks or bites a person, particularly a small child, serious injuries can occur. 

This article reviews some of the requirements that dog owners must abide by to prevent these attacks from happening. It also explores various options that may be available to those that have been injured in a dog attack. 

Dog bite injuries and prevention 

Getting bitten by a dog is scary and can result in serious injury. Injured parties should seek immediate medical attention because even minor injuries can result in an infection. 

Potential injuries from a dog bite range from cuts and abrasions to orthopaedic injuries, such as broken bones and dislocations. Injuries to children inflicted by big dogs can be particularly severe, with permanent scarring and disfigurement or amputation possible. 

There are steps that people can take to lower the risk of being attacked by a dog, such as not approaching unfamiliar dogs and seeking permission before petting a dog. There are also local laws designed to help keep everyone safe. 

Alberta legislation relating to pet ownership

In Calgary, there is a Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw. This requires dog owners to do certain things designed to reduce the risk of injury. For example, dogs cannot be left unattended while tethered and must be kept on a leash in public unless a sign indicates otherwise. Additionally, owners must ensure that their dogs do not engage in threatening behaviour, such as biting or attacking someone. If an attack occurs, the owner must report any dog bites within 24 hours of the incident. Contravening the bylaw is an offence and can result in significant fines. 

Alberta also has legislation called the Dangerous Dogs Act, under which a judge can order a dog to be destroyed if it has bitten or attempted to bite a person or is dangerous and not being kept under proper control. 

Personal injury claims following a dog bite attack 

If a dog has seriously injured you or your child, it is important to seek advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer. While the Calgary bylaw imposes several duties and potential consequences on dog owners, this does not necessarily translate to compensation for those injured in a dog attack. Not every bite from a dog that causes injury automatically entitles the injured person to claim compensation from the dog’s owner.

There are several potential routes available to secure compensation to allow you to recover from a dog bite. Working with a trusted personal injury lawyer will also ensure you pursue the best option for your circumstances. One of these avenues involves advancing a claim against the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. 

The doctrine of scienter

Alternatively, an injured plaintiff may be able to claim compensation from the owner following a dog bite under the doctrine of scienter. Under this doctrine, a claim may be available even if the owner was not at fault for the attack.

Under this doctrine, a plaintiff is entitled to recover compensation from the owner if the dog had manifested a propensity to cause the type of harm occasioned and the owner knew of that propensity. 

As stated by the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta in the case of McKinlay v. Zachow:

“The doctrine of scienter relies on a subjective examination of the dog owner’s knowledge and gives rise to strict liability based on that knowledge. Liability exists without proof of negligence for any damage caused by the animal acting in accordance with a propensity known by the owner.”

This means that if the injured person can show that the owner knew that their dog had previously caused the same type of harm, they may be able to claim compensation for the injuries the dog has now caused them. 

Negligence on the part of the dog owner

Another route that an injured plaintiff may be able to take in order to claim compensation from the dog owner for an injury is negligence, which relies on showing that the owner was at fault for the incident that caused the injury. 

If the injury occurred on the premises, the victim may have a claim against the occupier of the premises under Alberta’s Occupiers’ Liability Act. This legislation imposes a duty on property occupiers to take reasonable care to see that visitors will be reasonably safe. If a “visitor” is attacked by a dog at a property, the “occupier” may be liable for the injuries caused if they did not take reasonable care to keep the visitor safe.

Similarly, an owner may be liable for injuries caused by their dog under the common law principles of negligence if they:

  • knew or ought to have known that the dog was likely to create a risk of injury to other persons; and
  • failed to take reasonable care to prevent such injury. 

For example, if the owner knew that their dog could cause injury, perhaps because it was of a type that was subject to restrictions, and did not take steps to prevent it from biting other people, such as keeping the dog on a leash and muzzled, the injured person might have a negligence claim. 

In a successful claim for compensation, the injured person may be entitled to various types of compensation, such as for pain and suffering, reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses, the costs of future care and lost income if time off work was required as a result of the injury.

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP for Advice on Serious Personal Injuries

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a dog attack or by a dog bite, the personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP in Calgary will advise you on your prospects of succeeding in a claim for compensation. Please get in touch with us at 403-571-0555 or contact us online to schedule an appointment for a free consultation to discuss your case.