Should you sue over a dog bite: 5 key things to consider

You're not certain why it happened, only that it did: your neighbour's dog just bit you. Now you’re on your way to the ER. Should you sue over the bite? Or talk to the dog’s owner, settle, then let it slide? Here are five key things to consider.

Should you sue over a dog bite: 5 key things to consider

Whether you’ve owned dogs for years or have admired them for the faithful companions they are, dogs are more likely to bite when threatened, angry, afraid or in pain.

Nonetheless, a dog bite that results in injuries to you, loss of personal items, medical costs and lost wages because you can't work entitles you to sue for damages incurred due to the attack.

But is it as straightforward as that?

What's the alternative to a lawsuit?

Finding and contacting the dog’s owner, then working out an agreement for compensation after discussing details of the attack. Unfortunately, not all owners will want to accept responsibility. On the other side, even if they're open to dialogue, you may still want to sue.

So what are the 5 key things to consider?

1. Chances are you know the dog’s owner

According to the Canada Safety Council, an estimated 460,000 Canadians are bitten by dogs each year and most of the bites happen in and around the victim’s home to children ages 10 and under. Moreover, the biting dog is usually a family pet or belongs to someone the family knows.

Especially when children are involved, it's understandable if your first reaction is wanting to sue.

  • Ask yourself if you want to salvage the relationship with the dog's owner since taking him/her to court may damage the relationship irreversibly.
  • Depending on the severity of the injuries, the willingness of the dog’s owner to work with you to “make it right”, and your relationship with him/her, this may be an opportunity to move past the incident quickly and amicably.

2. Receiving compensation will take time and isn’t guaranteed

Although animal control is mostly a municipal responsibility in Canada, some provinces such as Ontario have the Ontario Dog Owner’s Liability Act that defines the civil liability of dog owners.

This type of legislation entitles you to sue for damages and injuries received due to a dog attack to help offset:

  • Bills for medical treatment, including out-of-pocket expenses not covered by government healthcare.
  • Personal items damaged in the attack (e.g., prescription glasses, clothing, electronics, etc.) that must be replaced.
  • Lost wages due to time spent off work recuperating from your injuries.

Other things to factor into a settlement amount include permanent disfigurement and emotional distress you may have suffered.

  • Before launching a lawsuit you’ll need to gather key documents and details to help figure out how much compensation you believe you should receive, which is no short process. Even then, the outcome of your case isn't guaranteed.
  • You must be meticulous collecting the facts, in which case a personal injury lawyer may be advisable, especially if your injuries are serious and part of your settlement includes potential lost income if you can no longer work.

3. Always consider the context and why it matters

When properly cared for a dog is a safe, reliable and faithful companion. Dogs are also naturally territorial, which is why people sometimes adopt them to protect their homes against intruders.

  • One provision in the Ontario Dog Owners' Liability Act when a dog owner can't be sued is if an intruder enters the dog owner’s property intending to commit a crime and the dog bites them.
  • However, if the court deems keeping the dog on the premises for the purpose of protection unreasonable, the owner could still be considered "on the hook,"

If ever you're on someone else’s property and are attacked by a dog, prepare to prove your intentions were honourable. Despite the complexity of the law, there are "grey zones" open to interpretation that could work against you.

4. Weigh the pros, cons and what works best for you

There could be advantages to settling your case outside of the court system. For example:

  • The situation could be resolved more quickly and you could receive compensation sooner.
  • Many people get a better sense of closure and move past the emotional trauma quicker.
  • Legal fees (if there are any) tend to be lower and you will have a clearer idea up front of how much money you may receive.

There are also advantages to going through the legal system, such as:

  • Potentially receiving a larger settlement.
  • Knowing the decision can be enforced by judicial procedure vs. a less formal “promise and a handshake” approach.
  • Feeling a greater sense of satisfaction from winning the case, especially if your encounter with the dog’s owner was confrontational.

Much of it depends on what you believe is best for you and your family. For some, physical recovery is more important than money. Others who bear deep emotional and physical scars may feel going through the legal system with a lawyer is a better option.

5. Consider how a personal injury lawyer can help you

Just as not every argument between two married people ends in divorce, not every dog bite ends up in court. But if you feel the situation merits it, talk to a lawyer.

  • Lawyers in the field of personal injury law are experts at dealing with similar cases and can help you establish a plan that should work to your advantage.

Pursuing a lawsuit involves a lot of work and means if you don’t win, you would have spent a lot of time, effort and money with nothing to show for it.

A tough decision

Nobody likes spending a second in the ER because of a dog bite, especially when a child is involved. Even more difficult is deciding what to do afterwards: deal with the situation out of court, or sue the dog's owner with the help of a lawyer. Whatever you choose, the goal is to resolve the situation as quickly as possibly to the best of your interests.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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