As with any pet, with the ownership of a dog comes the added responsibility and legal liability to others for injury or property damage it may cause.
- According to the Canada Safety Council, there are 42 Canadians bitten every hour by a dog
- Canada Post delivery personnel reported over 500 dog bite incidents in 2007 (CUPW)
- Between 1990-2007 there were 28 fatal dog attacks reported in Canada
- WSIB reported dog bite claims increased by 22% between 2005-2007
In Ontario, if a dog bites you, you may bring a civil action against the dog's owner for damages. The DOLA states that the owner of a dog is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack and that liability does not depend on the owner's fault, negligence or knowledge of the propensity of the dog to bite or attack.
The Act further provides that any individual can start a court proceeding. In these proceedings, an individual can also seek a court order related to a dog. These orders can provide for destruction of the dog or require that the dog's owner take certain measures in relation to the dog such as requiring that the dog be muzzled or leashed.
Violations of various Ontario statutes, including DOLA, constitute provincial offences and may be prosecuted under the Provincial Offences Act. After charges are laid, a Crown attorney presents the case in court.
From an insurance standpoint, homeowners (including condominiums), and renters insurance policies typically cover dog-bite liability up to the limits of liability selected on the policy. Limits usually start at $1,000,000 although lower, and higher limits are often available. Those without insurance would become personally liable.
USA situation: Along with being a popular travel destination, the USA has become a first or second home to many Canadians – and their dogs. Special consideration needs to be taken.
Dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause if the owner knew the dog had a tendency to cause that kind of injury; if a state statute makes the owner liable, whether or not the owner knew the dog had a tendency to cause that kind of injury; or if the injury was caused by unreasonably carelessness on the part of the owner. In most states, dog owners aren't liable to trespassers who are injured by a dog. A dog owner who is legally responsible for an injury to a person or property may be responsible for reimbursing the injured person for medical bills, time off work, pain and suffering and property damage.
During the summer of 2011 a Washington Superior Court jury awarded a $2.2 million verdict — $100,000 in medical bills and $2.1 million for pain and suffering – to a woman who was attacked in her home near Tacoma, Washington, by two neighborhood pitbulls. The plaintiffs' attorney sued the dogs' owners, whose homeowners policies were limited to $100,000 each, and the county for failing to declare the dogs a potential danger under a local ordinance.
On January 26, 2001, two Presa Canario dogs attacked and killed Diane Whipple in the doorway of her San Francisco, California, apartment. The owner of the dogs, Marjorie Knoller, a San Francisco lawyer, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous dog that killed a person—she was sentenced to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and was ordered to pay $6,800 in restitution. Her husband, Robert Noel, was convicted of two lesser charges but also received a four year prison sentence. Knoller became the first Californian convicted of murder for a dog's actions. This was only the third time such charges have been upheld in the United States, the first coming in Kansas in 1997.
The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reports that 337,526 people in the U.S. were injured by dog bites in 2009. A December 2010 report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality indicates that the number of Americans hospitalized because of dog bites increased by nearly 100 percent over a 15-year period.
Dog bites account for more than one-third of all homeowner's insurance liability claims, costing $413 million in 2010. An analysis of homeowner's insurance data by the I.I.I. found that the average cost of dog bite claims was $26,166 in 2010. State Farm Insurance reports that in 2010 it had the highest number of dog bite claims in California (369 claims, costing approximately $11.3 million), followed by Illinois (317 claims, costing approximately $9.7 million) and Ohio (215 claims, costing approximately $5.7 million).
Coming to Canada? Many USA insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of "biting breeds" and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage. It is unlikely that insurers will begin offering specialty insurance policies just for dog bites since the cost of such policies would be prohibitive.
The Insurance Advisors @ Guthrie Insurance Brokers Ltd
Toronto – (416) 487-5200 – 1-888-310-SAVE (7283)
E & O E