In an undefended trial, Thompson v. Fisher (2016), an Ontario court found a dog owner liable for injuries to the plaintiff. The incident occurred when the plaintiff came to the defendant’s house for the purpose of serving legal documents to the defendant. When the defendant opened his door, he allegedly swore at the plaintiff and let his Rottweiler-type dog outside, while ordering the dog to “sic him” or “get him”. The plaintiff then attempted to flee from the dog and subsequently fell down the porch stairs and hit his head and hands on the stony ground. Thereafter, the dog grabbed onto the plaintiff’s pants and showed aggression until he was called off by the owner. The plaintiff’s hands were bleeding profusely and he went to the hospital to have his injuries assessed and attended to.
The incident caused the plaintiff headaches, a bruised left hip and lacerations to his knee, all of which resolved within a few weeks. However, his hands were more seriously injured, with lacerations deep enough to expose the bone and tendon. His hands were bandaged to such an extent that he could not use them and he developed an infection in his left hand which required re-wrapping and left permanent scars.
While his hands were wrapped and healing, for about 3 months, the plaintiff was unable to work and had to depend on others for essential daily activities, such as washing himself, driving, cooking and parenting activities for his 12 and 15-year-old children. During this time and until he was able to resume his normal activities, a friend who is a qualified caregiver (PSW) came to his home three times daily to help with household and personal care tasks. The plaintiff assessed the cost of this care based on a fee of $15/hr, which the judge deemed reasonable, for a total of $5,988.
Justice Eberhard found the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, pursuant to the Dog Owners’ Liability Act s. 2(1) which states “the owner of a dog is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by the dog on another person or domestic animal”. The judge also concluded that it was reasonable for the defendant to flee, under the circumstances in which he found himself. Further, because he fell while pursued by the dog, the fall was caused by the dog. The plaintiff was found not contributory negligent.
The plaintiff testified that he had several debilitating conditions that prevented him from maintaining employment, including renal failure, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia that affects his feet and ankles. He also admitted that, at the time of the incident, he had difficulty standing or sitting for long periods. The plaintiff therefore did not make a claim for loss of income.
Prior to the incident, the plaintiff was able to carry out 90-95 per cent of the tasks required for daily living. However, two years after the incident, he is less able to grip items, particularly heavier ones, and needs help with some tasks, such as twisting the lid off jars. He did not complain of any psychological or emotional disorder, such as PTSD, but has a greater fear of dogs. Justice Eberhard assessed general damages (for pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment in life) in the amount of $30,000, particularly taking into account the plaintiff’s loss of independence and personal well-being in the months after the incident. The plaintiff’s awarded damages were $38,780.23 in total, which include subrogated damages of $2,792.23 as well as the special damages for home care.
Ontario dog owners are advised to familiarize themselves with their obligations under the Dog Owners’ Liability Act as they can be held responsible if their dog injures another person or their pet. The Act states that a proceeding may be brought against a dog owner not only if the dog has attacked or bitten a person or domestic animal, but also if the dog behaves in a way that poses a threat to someone’s safety. If an owner did not take reasonable precautions to prevent their dog from hurting or attacking someone or behaving in a menacing manner, they may be held liable for physical and psychological injuries to a plaintiff.