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Dog Attacks and Dog Bites – When are Property Owners Liable?

Dogs are popular pets who can bring a lot of joy and enjoyment. While many dogs appear to be friendly and playful, each dog has its own temperament and personality. It often takes a split second for a friendly interaction to go terribly wrong resulting in a dog bite or a dog attack leading to serious and lifelong injuries.

The Canada Safety Counsel estimates that each year 460,000 people are victims of dog bites and dog attacks. Out of this number, it is estimated that over half of the victims are children. The rationale behind this is often children lack the ability to recognize the warning signs prior to an attack.

Dog Bite and Dog Attack Liability in British Columbia

Liability for a dog bite or dog attack may be imposed in 3 ways:

  • Scienter Doctrine is a form of strict liability. In order for scienter to apply, the injured claimant must prove that the defendant was the owner of the dog, that the dog had manifested a propensity to cause the type of harm occasioned and that the dog owner knew of that propensity. If these conditions are found, the liability is absolute and proof of negligence is not required.
  • Negligence is a form of liability on the part of either the dog owner or the owner of the property where the injury took place. To succeed in an action based in negligence, the injured claimant must prove that the owner of the dog or property owner knew, or ought to have known, that the dog was likely to create a risk of injury and that the owner or property owner failed to take reasonable care to prevent such injury.
  • Occupier’s liability is a form of liability on the part of the owner (occupier) of the property where the injury took place. To succeed in an action based in Occupier’s Liability, the injured claimant must prove that the property owner (occupier) knew or ought to have known that the dog was likely to create a risk of harm and that the property owner (occupier) failed to take reasonable care to prevent such harm. Unlike negligence, it is possible for the property owner (occupier) to be found liable under the Occupier’s Liability Act even if he/she did not actually own the dog.

In Konkin v. Bartel [1988] B.C.J. No.1716, the injured claimant was bitten by 2 fighting dogs while at a labour day weekend party on the defendant’s property. The defendant, who was the property owner, did not own either dog. One of the dogs was owned by the property owner’s parents and it had a known history of fighting with other dogs. In fact, this particular dog was involved in a fight with another dog the day before. The trial judge found that the property owner, as an occupier, owed a duty to see that the injured claimant was safe using his property and that he had failed to take reasonable care to prevent the incident by not ensuring that the dogs were property restrained while on his property.

Ali v. Samra 2019 BCSC 2005 is a recent case which considered the liability of a property owner for injuries caused by a dog attack. In this case, the injured claimant, who was a child, was bitten by a pit bull while he was on his way to a nearby park to play with friends. While walking to the park, the dog came out from a property owned by the defendants and bit him severely on his back and his arm. The attack took place in the alley behind the property owned by the defendants. The claim was brought against the property owners in Occupier’s Liability.

At the time of the dog bite, the property owned by the defendants was being rented to a tenant who owned the dog. The tenancy agreement specified that no pets were permitted. The property owner testified that he never saw a dog on the property and that he was not aware that the tenant had kept a dog there.

The trial judge dismissed the action. First, the alley was not considered to be part of the property owned by the defendants. Second, the property owners were found not to owe a duty of care to a stranger walking by their property. While the property owners may have had a duty of care to their tenants and to visitors on their property, they were not considered to owe a duty of care to a stranger walking by the property. The trial judge noted that special circumstances may have existed to give rise to a duty of care to a pedestrian on an adjoining alley if the property owners had known there was a dangerous dog present on their property.

Tags: dog, Dog Attack Injury, occupier liability, Scienter

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"Jacqueline A. Small is a personal injury lawyer with over 15 years of experience and a partner with Holness Law Group."

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