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A teenaged boy in Surrey BC, who was unexpectedly attacked by a pit bull, is seeking damages for injury against the property owner and the dog owner. The boy was walking through an alley when a pit bull ran at him from the property beside the alley. He did not do anything to provoke the dog and immediately ran the opposite direction. The dog continued to chase him when the dog eventually bit his back severely and bit under his arm. The injured teen, Ali, chose to sue the property owner, Samra, and the alleged owners of the dog, Johns and Perry (Ali v. Samra 2019). Johns and Perry were tenants of the property owned by Samra. Samra rented out the home to Farbeh, who subleted the property to recovering drug addicts.
There are three principle ways that the law holds people responsible for harm caused by a dog.
If the behaviour of the dog could cause foreseeable harm to others, the person whose control the dog is under has a responsibility to prevent the harm. This is true regardless of the ownership of the dog, or the location of the dog.
The ownership of this dog was unknown, and Ali could not prove that Johns and Perry were taking care of the dog at the time of the injury. The original ownership of the dog was allegedly a previous tenant at the property. One of the current tenants attested that Johns and Perry were the new owners of the dog since the owner had left; however, his testification was inconsistent and deemed not a reliable source of evidence by the judge. The general negligence claim was unsuccessful against Johns and Perry because their ownership of the dog could not be proven by Ali.
Another ground on which someone may be legally responsible for injury caused by a dog, is if it occurs on property controlled by them. This is because in BC, a person who controls property must take reasonable steps to ensure activities conducted on the property do not pose unreasonable risks to others on the property. Even though the property owner might not own the dog, because of their duty to ensure people are reasonably safe in using the property, they may be responsible for the injuries.
Samra, in his tenancy agreement, specified to Farbeh that no pets were allowed on the property. Farbeh was instructed to pass this information onto all the tenants. In maintaining the property, Samra went to the property once or twice a month inspecting for any possible damages and ensuring no pets were living in the home. He had never seen a dog on the property and had no knowledge of any dog staying there. Samra was ultimately deemed to have taken the reasonable steps to ensure there was no unreasonable risk to others on his property.
If Samra knew that the dog was living on the property and that the dog was dangerous, then Ali would have had a stronger case through Occupiers’ Liability Law. However, even if Samra had knowledge that the dog was living in the property, the case would still be unsuccessful because he wouldn’t have expected the dog to be dangerous.
The judge also outlines the fact that the alley that the accident occurred was not the property of Samra. The judge notes that Samra did not have a duty of care to Ali since he was a random stranger passing by the property. If this was a tenant or a visitor to his property, he may be held responsible in that scenario.
The law of scienter means that if you own a dog, the dog has demonstrated a dangerous behaviour previously, and you knew that it had, you may be liable if that behaviour hurts someone. Similar to the case through general negligence law, Ali could not prove that Johns and Perry were under the care of the dog at the time of the injury so they could not be held liable. This law does not apply to Samra because he was not under the care of the dog, did not know the dog was living on the property and had no knowledge that the dog was dangerous.
Since Ali could not prove any of these three principles, his lawsuit was dismissed.
If you are a dog owner, regardless of the breed, the responsible thing to do is to ensure you have insurance to protect you, and any person that might be injured by your dog. Rarely does any dog intend to cause harm, but unfortunately the intent of a dog matters not when you are the one being sued.
For more information, read our blog on acts of dog and the law in BC.