Warmer weather means more people out and about. We see more people out for walks both with and without dogs.
Some dog owners are very responsible. They curb their dog, keep them on a leash and keep the under control. Some dog owners are not. But even the most responsible dog owner may run in to a situation whereby their dog losses control.
What happens when a dog attacks someone? How does one go about making a claim for damages.
It goes without saying that you cannot sue the dog itself. But you can sue the dog owner and claim damages against him/her.
It helps if the dog owner has asset or home owners or renter’s insurance.
A dead beat dog owner without any assets and without any form of insurance will result in an fruitless case. That’s not to say that a Plaintiff won’t “win” the case. In fact, there is a very strong likelihood on a dog bite or dog attack case that the Plaintiff will “win“; and a Court will order that the Defendant dog owner pay damages.
But the Judgment will be an empty one. A Plaintiff cannot recover blood from a stone in the event that the Defendant is without any assets, and without any insurance coverage. A Judgment-Debtor Examination may reveal that the Defendant Dog Owner owns no property, no vehicles, has no money in the bank, and is currently on ODSP or Ontario Works (both of which cannot be garnished).
Some people have a difficult time of understanding the concept of an empty Judgment; or the idea that a Judgement is without any real monetary value.
A Judge cannot compel a Defendant to pay money which the Defendant does not have. And if the Defendant does not have the money required; that does not mean that the Defendant is sent to jail or that s/he is executed. Life goes on.
Take the example of an impoverished homeless person. This homeless person may own a dog. One day that dog may be off leash, and might bite someone. The victim of the dog bite may take legal action against the impoverished homeless dog owner.
The impoverished homeless dog owner is without any real tangible monetary assets. A Plaintiff may bring an action against the Defendant; and will likely win his/her case. But getting money out of that Defendant will likely prove to be impossible given that the Defendant is without any real assets. So, despite the fact that Court ruled in favour of a Plaintiff and ordered that the Defendant pay out money to a Plaintiff; in the real world the Plaintiff will end up with an unenforceable Judgment and get ZERO.
How is that fair? It’s not, but who ever said anything that civil litigation had to be “fair“. There are plenty examples in civil litigation (particularly in car insurance litigation) which aren’t “fair“. If the general public only knew what happens behind the curtain and inside the Courtroom they would be in shock at the way the system favours one side (normally deep pocketed insurance companies) at the expense of everyday people who are trying to get compensation for their injuries.
Why is the Defendant not going to jail for failing to pay out on a Judgment? Because in Canada and in most western democracies, people and business leaders don’t got to jail because they can’t afford to pay out on a civil judgment (not criminal); especially those who were without any real tangible assets before the litigation began.
What does this mean for a Plaintiff who was bit or attacked by a dog?
You can never control how, when or where you get bit or attacked by a dog. The same can be said for the identity and wealth of the dog owner.
If you are to get bit or attacked by a dog, in a perfect world the dog owner will be a home owner, or have some form or home owners or rental insurance. Being attacked by a dog whose owner is a tenant without any form of property insurance or assets will cause coverage issues which will impact on the eventual judgment collection in your case.
A dog owner is responsible for the actions of their dog. When a dog bites or attacks another person, there is a reverse onus contained in the Dog Owners Liability Act (DOLA) which states that the dog owner is guilty unless proven innocent for the actions of his/her dog.
It’s important for a Plaintiff to get the name and contact information of the dog owner, or the person who was harboring the dog at the time of the attack. Without that information; tracking down the dog owner could prove to be very difficult as time goes by. This requires a Plaintiff to be proactive. It’s different than a car accident where a Plaintiff can simply record the make, model, colour and license plate number of the at fault driver’s vehicle. That’s easy. Getting the name and contact information of a dog owner can prove to be difficult; especially where a dog owner is uncooperative.
A Plaintiff should call the police or animal control to report the dog attack. A Plaintiff should take pictures of the offending dog and of the offending dog owner if they are uncooperative at providing their contact information. A Plaintiff may need to even do some amateur detective work to get the name and address of the dog owner if they are uncooperative. They may need to enlist neighbors or witnesses to get that information. Unlike in a car accident case, there is no legal requirement for a dog owner to remain on the scene of a dog attack and provide the bite victim with their name and contact information. I am not aware of any “fail to remain” on dog owners in dog attack cases.
Insurance coverage (or lack thereof) is always the trickiest part of dog bite and dog attack cases. In the majority of cases, the fact there was a dog attack and the wounds which the bite(s) caused is not as contentious. While damages is a separate issue; a Plaintiff doesn’t even get to that hurdle unless there is proper coverage in place. The worst thing for a Plaintiff is a serious injury from a dog attack where there is no insurance coverage and no reasonable prospect of recovery on a Judgment given the impecuniosity of the Defendant Dog Owner.