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Dog Bite Cases begin and end with Insurance Coverage

You have been bitten by a dog.

The dog bite isn’t a small one. Rather, it’s quite a serious injury which will leave permanent and emotional scaring.

Your local Animal Control Unit is investigating the case, and has filed charges against the Dog Owner. But the charges, and the potential conviction will not pay for your past or future care costs, let alone compensate you for the pain and suffering which you have endured.

You retain a personal injury lawyer (hopefully one from Goldfinger Injury Lawyers) to help you get the compensation which you deserve.

If your case went to trial, you would win. It’s a pretty “open/shut” case whereby you were in the wrong place, at the wrong time. You did not provoke the dog. It was no muzzled, and the owner had lost control of the dog leading to the attack.

A Judge will have no problem finding liability against the dog owner, and that the dog caused your injuries. Needless to say, a Judge will rule in your favour and order that the Defendant pay you compensation for your injuries and future losses.

But this is not enough for a dog attack case.

Dog attack cases begin, and they end, on insurance coverage. The cold, hard, truth, is that in the overwhelming majority of dog attack cases, an innocent Plaintiff will only get paid the full value of what they are owned when there is insurance coverage for the dog attack. If there is no insurance coverage, then there is a strong likelihood that the Plaintiff will not recover what they are owned, or not make any recovery at all. When there is no insurance coverage, a Plaintiff cannot get blood from a stone.

When is there insurance for a dog bite case, and when is there not?

There is insurance for a dog bite case, when the dog owner, or the person responsible for the care, control or harbouring the dog, has home owner’s or tenant insurance.

If the dog owner is a home owner, or a condo owner, or a rents an apartment and has home owner’s insurance, condo insurance, or tenant insurance, then there is a very strong chance that the dog bite claim will be covered by insurance. This means that the legal costs and any award will be paid out by an insurance company. This is one of the reasons why someone would purchase this sort of insurance in the first place.Brian-Goldfinger-03-200x300

If the dog owner is a renter without tenant insurance, then chances are there won’t be any insurance coverage available for a claim.

Is the landlord responsible for a dog bite by a dog owned by one of their tenants?

The vast majority of landlords are what we refer to as “absentee landlords“. This means that they do not reside in the dwelling or apartment which they own and rent out to a tenant.

Because they don’t reside with the tenant, they are not in control of the dog, nor are they harbouring the dog. These are factors which a Court looks into when assessing who is responsible for the actions of the dog itself. In Purcell v. Taylor (1994),1994 CanLII 7514 (ON SC), 120 D.L.R. (4th) 161 (Ont. Gen. Div.), Borins J. explained that the common law generally did not extend liability for dog bites beyond those persons who could be said to have “owned”, “possessed” or “harboured” the dog. The Court will want to know such things as:

  • Who fed the dog?
  • Who walked the dog?
  • Who took the dog to the vet?
  • Who was caring for the dog on a daily basis?

Chances are this won’t be the absentee landlord. Rather it will be the tenant. If that tenant had no insurance, the Plaintiff might be in a coverage bind for their claim.

Can the Plaintiff go after the absentee landlord for a dog attack by a tenant’s dog?

Canada is a free country, and you can advance any legal argument which you like. But this does not mean that your legal argument will succeed.

In the recent Court of Appeal case in Walpole v. Crisol, 2024 ONCA 400 (CanLII), the Plaintiff tried to go after the absentee landlord for a dog bite caused by a dog owned by one of its tenants. The case did not succeed against the absentee landlord.

The Court of Appeal found that the absentee landlord was not responsible under the Dog Owner’s Liability Act (DOLA) for the act of a tenant’s dog. In addition, the absentee landlord was not responsible for the acts of a tenant’s dog under the Occupier’s Liability Act stating:

To the extent that the tenancy agreement made the Crisols “responsible for the maintenance or repair of the premises”, there is no evidence that the dog bite at issue here was causally linked to any failure by them to properly maintain or repair the rented property. To the extent that s. 8(1) imposed a duty of care on the Crisols, this duty was limited to “dangers arising from any failure on [their] part in carrying out [their] responsibility” to maintain or repair the premises….In my view, a tenant’s dog cannot be treated as if it is part of the rented property, so as to bring it within the landlords’ “maintenance and repair” obligations.”

This is NOT to say that each case involving a landlord, tenant and a dog attack will be excluded. There can be examples where the landlord can be held accountable. Let’s take an example where the landlord knew, or ought to have known that a tenant dog was a danger to invitees to the rented premises. Examples where a tenant’s dog has previously bit someone. Examples where a tenant was warned, or not warned, of previous dog attacks. Where a landlord is wilfully blind to the dangers which a tenant dog may present, this may subject them to potential exposure for the acts of a tenant’s dog. But ultimately, it would be up to a Court to decide. This will all depend on the facts of the case.

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