A person who suffers an injury from another or suffers damage to or loss of property due to another’s actions is entitled to pursue damages according to personal injury law. Such cases often arise due to injuries and damages sustained due to a motor vehicle accident, a slip and fall, or some other accident. But what happens when an injury arises due to a dog bite?

Well, assuming that the injured party can identify the owner of the animal, then a person who suffers injury or damage as a result of the actions of a dog (or other domestic pet) is entitled to pursue a claim for recovery of damages against the owner of the animal. Such claims are typically rooted in negligence and seek damages for compensation for any medical expenditures associated with treating the injury(ies) suffered and/or replacing any damaged possessions. Moreover, the injured party in this scenario may also seek non-pecuniary damages, also known as ‘general damages,’ intended to compensate the injured party for the pain and injury suffered due to the incident. 

Two People and One Dog Enter an Elevator

The recent British Columbia court decision, Rae v Gadalla, illustrates how to pursue damages for injuries suffered due to a dog bite. The case involved Robert Rae, who, at the time of the events in question, was 83 years old and lived on the 20th floor of an apartment building in Vancouver. The defendants, Dr. Gadalla and his wife, Rofah, lived on the 27th floor of the same apartment building, along with their 10-year-old Yorkshire Terrier whom they called “Flex.” 

On the day in question, Robert returned home from his daily workout and pressed the button for the elevator service. Rofah and Flex were already present when the elevator arrived, and Flex was leashed. Robert joined them on the elevator, and they were the only three passengers. While awaiting arrival at his floor, Flex began to bark at Robert. As the doors opened to his floor, Flex bit Robert on the back of his left leg, below the knee. The bite was severe enough to draw blood and necessitated that Robert call an ambulance for treatment, although he did not require transportation to a hospital. 

All Parties Leave the Elevator Embroiled in a Lawsuit

The wound Robert received from Flex’s bite, though not large, caused him quite a bit of difficulty, as it failed to properly heal promptly and became swollen and infected, which necessitated further medical treatment. In the weeks after the incident, Robert attended the emergency department of a local hospital to see the infection, after which he was required to attend a nearby clinic every third day to receive treatment. As a result of the wound and the associated infection and treatment, Robert was unable to resume his regular daily exercise routine at the gym for three months after the accident. He was unable to continue his routine of swimming each day for six months after the dog bite.

After speaking with Rofah and her husband and seeking payment from them directly in relation to the injuries he suffered as a result of the dog bite, Robert commenced a claim for damages from the defendants as a result of their negligence in failing to control their dog appropriately, Flex. Robert sought to recover $30,000 – $35,000 in damages “to compensate him for his resulting pain, suffering and loss of amenities of life”. 

The Legal Principles Related to Dog Bite Injuries

The owner of a dog may be held liable for an attack by that dog in one of two ways: scienter or negligence. Under the doctrine of scienter, domestic pets are presumed to be harmless such that recovery of damages hinges on the victim’s ability to prove that the dog owner knew, before the occurrence of the incident that gave rise to damages, that the animal in question had the propensity to cause the injury or damage that it caused. To be successful in such a claim, the victim of the bite must prove three things:

  1. That the defendant was the owner of the animal in question
  2. That the animal had exhibited a propensity to behave in such a manner as to cause the type of harm that was suffered by the victim
  3. That the owner was aware of the animal’s propensity

It should be noted that proof of a propensity to behave in a certain manner does not require that the animal had engaged in the precise, specific behaviour complained of but only that the animal had a propensity to cause that kind of harm. Only where all three elements can be successfully proven will the claim be successful. 

To prove that the owner of an animal has behaved negligently, a plaintiff must prove two things:

  1. That the owner of the animal knew, or ought to have known, that their pet was likely to create a risk of injury to people, including the plaintiff
  2. That the owner of the animal failed to take reasonable care to prevent such an injury

In either case, the plaintiff must prove their case on the balance of probabilities, meaning it was more likely than not that the plaintiff’s version of events was correct.

Application of the Legal Principles to the Facts of This Case

In this case, the evidence demonstrated that Flex had bitten at least two other residents of the building in which the plaintiff and defendants lived and that the defendants were well aware of these incidents. Moreover, they had sent flowers, accompanied by an apology, to Robert in the aftermath of the incident in addition, they also immediately began to muzzle Flex when he was outside of their apartment unit. They had paid a fine issued by the Strata Council in relation to the incident, and they had reimbursed Robert for the medical expenses associated with treatment for the bite. In these circumstances, the court was satisfied that Robert had successfully proven both scienter and negligence, in that Rafah and her husband had failed to take appropriate steps to control Flex until the third recorded incident of a bite on the part of their dog, Flex. 

Although Robert’s injury was not that severe, in that it resulted in an incision and scar of approximately 1 cm x 3 cm, the incident still impacted the quality of his life and his well-being. As such, Robert was awarded non-pecuniary damages of $5,000. The defendants’ subsequent motion for a declaration of a mistrial was denied.

Vancouver Personal Injury Lawyers Providing Exceptional Advice On Injuries Caused By Negligence

If you have suffered personal injury as a result of an accident, a dog bite, or a slip and fall, then you need a personal injury lawyer to handle your claim for damages. Even if the injuries suffered are not catastrophic or life-changing, damages may still be warranted and recoverable. 

Located in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Meridian Law Group is proud to serve clients throughout the province of British Columbia and assist them with their personal injury, estate, family and commercial litigation matters. Contact us online or call (604) 687-2277 to schedule a confidential consultation.