Personal injury can cause major upheaval, both for the injured individual and for their family and friends. It can be caused by various types of accidents, including attacks by animals. If a serious injury results, long-term treatment could be required and a claim for compensation might be able to assist with medical care and lost wages, among other things.

This article looks at the law on injuries caused by dogs in British Columbia. We also look at the recent decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Garside v. Dougan, in which the plaintiff sought $100,000 in damages after her friend’s dog bit her hand. 

British Columbia does not have a strict liability statute for injuries caused by dogs

In some other provinces, a dog owner is liable for damages if their dog attacks another person, regardless of whether the owner was negligent or took reasonable safety precautions.

For example, in Ontario, the owner of a dog is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by the dog on another person or domestic animal. According to the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, it doesn’t matter if the dog is not usually aggressive. It also doesn’t matter if the owner was not at fault or negligent. However, the court will reduce damages if the fault or negligence of the plaintiff caused or contributed to the damage. 

Plaintiffs need to argue scienter, negligence or occupier’s liability

In British Columbia, there is no dog liability statute, so dog attack victims need to look at other mechanisms to hold dog owners responsible.

Firstly, plaintiffs may seek to rely on the common law doctrine of Scienter. In order to be entitled to damages for compensation for a dog attack, the plaintiff needs to prove that: 

(i) the defendant was the owner of the dog; 

(ii) that the dog had manifested a propensity to cause the type of harm occasioned; and 

(iii) that the owner knew of that propensity.

Secondly, dog owners will be liable for an attack if the plaintiff brings a successful negligence claim. The plaintiff needs to prove that: 

(i) the defendant knew, or ought to have known, that their dog was likely to create a risk of injury to other people, including the plaintiff; and 

(ii) that the defendant failed to take reasonable care to prevent such injury.

Finally, the plaintiff may be able to claim damages under the Occupier’s Liability Act (Act) against the person that occupies the premises on which the dog attack took place. Under this Act, the occupier of premises owes a duty to take reasonable care to see that a person will be reasonably safe in using the premises.

Plaintiff suffered puncture wounds and broken bone from dog bite

Ms. Garside, the plaintiff, was injured in 2018 when the defendant’s dog, a pit-bull mix, bit her hand. The plaintiff was trying to separate her dog from the defendant’s dog after the latter bit the plaintiff’s dog.

The parties had an understanding that the plaintiff’s dog would remain inside, or if it came outside, there would be an opportunity to secure the defendant’s dog to keep him separated from the plaintiff’s dog. However, the plaintiff opened the door and when the defendant’s dog moved towards the plaintiff’s dog, the plaintiff said “it’s okay I have her”. The attack then occurred.

The bite caused three puncture wounds in the plaintiff’s right hand, which led to stitches, treatment with antibiotics and a broken bone in her hand that required surgery. The plaintiff was unable to work for three to four months while her hand healed. 

The defendant kept the dog on a leash in public and would occasionally use a muzzle. However, in 2017, the dog broke loose from her leash and attacked a small dog. It had also killed a parakeet.

The scienter claim was not established because the defendant’s dog did not have a propensity to bite people

The plaintiff argued that the second element of the scienter test was satisfied because the dog had previously harmed other animals.

Justice Marzari reviewed previous scienter cases and decided:

I find that “the type of harm occasioned” in scienter relates to personal injury, and not injury to a pet or livestock, which at common law has historically been actionable only as damage to property.

Given that the defendant’s dog did not previously have a trait or propensity to harm a person, the plaintiff’s scienter claim failed.

The negligence claim also failed because the defendant took reasonable care

Justice Marzari then turned to the plaintiff’s negligence claim. Her Honour agreed with the plaintiff that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff because it was reasonably foreseeable that her dog might get into an altercation with the plaintiff’s dog, which might cause harm to more than just the dog.

However, her Honour held that the defendant took reasonable care to prevent the injury. The defendant took actions including discussing which dog would remain inside and calling out a warning to the plaintiff when she brought her dog outside. As a result, her Honour also dismissed the plaintiff’s negligence claim. 

Contact Meridian Law Group in Vancouver for Representation in Personal Injury Claims

At Meridian Law Group, we understand the upheaval caused by a serious personal injury. We work tirelessly to secure maximum compensation for our client’s injuries. Our deep knowledge and experience ensure that we are able to navigate the medical and legal complexity of each client’s case.

The talented and determined personal injury lawyers at Meridian Law Group in Vancouver provide skilled representation and pragmatic advice for clients involved in accidents. They help clients negotiate settlements to minimize cost and stress, or prepare and mount vigorous trial strategies to secure their clients’ rights and entitlements. Located in downtown Vancouver, the firm proudly represents clients throughout West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Coquitlam, Penticton, Kelowna, Richmond, New Westminster, Burnaby, Surrey, Langley, and White Rock. To arrange a confidential consultation for your personal injury matter, please call 604-687-2277 or reach out online.