What you need to know if you’re hurt by a dog

Dog bites are a serious matter, accounting for 500,000 injuries Canada-wide per year. In 2010, 379 Toronto dog bites were reported.  Some studies suggest that over 60% of dog bites require surgical treatment, and 50% of total injuries are caused by a family pet, with the victims most often children.

Animal injuries from dog attacks include:

  • Non-serious injuries such as minor punctures, abrasions and lacerations.  These are easy to treat with basic first aid – the wound needs to be cleaned, treated with an antibiotic, and bandaged.
  • Serious injuries such as major lacerations, crushed limbs and bones, fractures, and disfiguring scars.  Facial fractures, often around the eyes, nose, and jaw, are particularly common in cases where the victim of the attack is a small child.  These animal injuries require medical treatment, and can lead to disability and deformity, particularly if they are not treated promptly.  In adults, they can cause a high amount of missed work and increased medical expenses.
  • Infections such as rabies, cellulitis, and C canimorsus.  These are particular dangers when the bite comes from a strange dog.  While cellulitis is a skin condition that is relatively minor, both rabies and C canimorsus are serious and life-threatening.  These can also cause missed work and increased medical expenses.  As such, it is essential that preventative measures from infection be part of the initial medical treatment.

The reasons for dog attacks vary, and in some cases the dog has not been properly socialized while in others the dog may have been mistreated.  It is also possible that the dog is ill, or has become rabid.  In certain rare cases, the dog has been trained to be vicious by its owner.  Sometimes, the breed of the dog is a very aggressive one, or the behaviour of the victim has in some manner provoked the dog or caused its hunter-prey instinct to kick in.

When a dog bite does occur, Ontario law places the liability on the owner, without the victim of the attack needing to prove that the owner was negligent.  There is one exception to this – if the attack occurred while the victim was in the process of committing a criminal act, such as breaking and entering, the owner is not liable.  Otherwise, all that the victim needs to prove is that the attack occurred, and the owner can face both civil and criminal charges.

The degree of liability in a civil suit depends on a number of factors in Canadian personal injury law.  If the dog was provoked by the victim, or the owner took all reasonable measures to prevent an attack, the liability will be reduced.  If, on the other hand, the owner was negligent, or deliberately trained the dog to be aggressive or vicious, the consequences will be more severe.  In a criminal court, the owner can be sentenced to pay a fine of up to $10,000, a jail term of up to six months, or both.  The judge may also order that the dog be restrained, confined, or in a worst-case scenario, destroyed.

If you have been bitten or attacked by a dog, your first priority should be medical treatment.  However, the Canadian Kennel Club suggests that if there is time before you go to the hospital, you should also:

  • Write down all the information you can about the dog and its owner, including descriptions and names if possible.  If the dog was a runaway or a stray, that is important to note as well.
  • Document the wound and the situation leading up to the attack, taking pictures if possible.
  • Talk to any witnesses and make certain to get their contact information.  This is particularly important if legal action results under personal injury law, as your lawyer and the court will need as much information as possible.
  • Contact Animal Services or Animal Control in your local community.  This is in part to inform them that the attack has happened – a vital thing if there is a dangerous stray or runaway dog – and to get any information you need about dog bites to properly take care of yourself.

Author Robert B. Marks is a writer, editor, and researcher in Kingston, Ontario, who spent several years working as a writer and editor for the Queen’s University Faculty of Law.

Lerners periodically provides materials on our services and developments in the law to interested persons.  These materials are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice, an opinion on any issue or a lawyer/client relationship.  For more details on our terms of use and the information contained in this blog, please visit our Terms of Use page.

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