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New Dog During the Pandemic = New Liability. Goldfinger on Dog Bite Claims

My first case reported in the media was a dog bite claim. It involved a woman who has been diagnosed with PTSD. She had an emotional support dog to help her cope. One day on a walk outside of her the common area of her apartment complex; two unleashed pit bulls attacked and killed her emotional support dog, and attacked my client as well leaving both physical and emotional scars. The story was covered by a number of news outlets because pit bull bans were a hot topic; and it was a very ferocious attack leaving serious and long lasting injuries. The case eventually settled out of Court for a substantial sum. Whenever the Toronto Injury Lawyer Blog covers the topic of dog bites, I’m reminded of this case which still has a place in my heart.

If you’ve walked around your block during the pandemic and seen an increase in the number of dogs; you’re not seeing things. There has been a spike in the purchase and adoptions of dogs during the pandemic. It makes sense. More people are at home with time to care for a dog. People have been cut off from friends and family and are looking for another form of love, support and connection. There’s no better time to get a dog then when on lock down I suppose.

But with dog ownership comes great responsibility. Take away the vet bills, cost of food, accessories, training etc. It’s estimated that many of these new puppy purchases and adoptions will lead to an increased number of dogs being surrendered and shelter numbers going up.

In speaking with a number of casualty insurance adjusters, they have also noticed a spike in dog related claims. Dog bites, dog attacks, dog on dog claims etc. Those claims have gone hand in hand with the pandemic.

I have suspicions as to why dog bite claims have increased during the pandemic which I would like to share with you.linkedin-2-300x300

Dog Ownership and NEW DOG OWNERSHIP has increased. It’s not just the number of dog owners which has increased, but it’s also the number of new dog owners which has increased as well. Being a new dog owner is great, but not all dogs are the right fit for all people. Some dogs are higher maintenance and harder to control for other dogs. Some dogs mesh well with families, others don’t. Some dogs don’t mind small spaces while other dogs behave badly in smaller locations resulting in a harder to control dog. The math of it all is simple. More dogs =greater the chance of increased dog attack and dog bite claims.

Trusting the dog to the kids to walk and discipline the new family dog might be a bad idea; especially with a young large dog that hasn’t been properly broken in to your routines and the neighbourhood. It’s going to be really hard for a pre-teen or teenager to walk a heavier dog when the weight of the dog eclipses their own body weight. Keep that in mind the next time you send your child out to walk your dog in case you have a large dog. Controlling a large dog not only requires strong verbal and non-verbal command but also physical strength to some degree. The owner should walk the dog and not the other way around. How many times have you seen a kid on the street being pulled along by a dog; like the dog is taking them out for a walk. The dog at the end of the day is the owner’s responsibility. An inability to control one’s dog opens the door to a negligence claim against the dog owner. This is why it’s so important to have control over one’s dog.

The nice thing for Plaintiffs in dog bite and dog attack claims is that if they normally get investigated by a neutral third party in the form of Animal Control, the Police or a local Bi-Law Officer. There are charges which the City of Municipality can lay against the offending dog owner.

This is very different than a slip and fall case where the Police or local Bi-Law Enforcement have no control over the negligence over a private individual’s personal property. If someone’s property is in a state of disrepair, in most cases you won’t see a police officer give the private property owner a ticket for having a cracked or uneven walk way.

The timely reporting of a dog bite or dog attack can be the difference between a winning case and a losing case. If the police lay charges against the responsible dog owner, and those charges stick; it will be very hard for the dog owner to refute their negligence in this type of case. In contrast; if no charges are laid and there is no animal control investigation in to the dog attack; it becomes a case of he said vs. she said which can be very difficult to prove; especially when there are no witnesses and limited evidence. Remember: your personal injury lawyer cannot make evidence appear out of thin air; especially when that evidence does not even exist.

The one thing we have seen which has improved dog bite and dog attack litigation is the commonality of smart phone cameras. Everyone has a camera on their smart phone nowadays. Those cameras can be used to take photos of the offending dog, photos of the dog owner, photos of the injury immediately after the injury. All of these photos are important. They are really important where the Defendant dog owner insists that they weren’t there at the time of the dog attack and it wasn’t their dog. These photos shut down these defences right away without question. They also help establish that the Defendant dog owner is a liar who lacks all credibility in such a claim. This will be helpful in establishing liability. The next test for the injured Plaintiff is to establish and qualify their damages and economic and non-economic losses as a result of the dog bite or dog attack.

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