Case Commentary – Liability for Dog Bite Claims


In a significant decision for dog bite claimants, the Ontario Court of Appeal has expanded who can be considered a dog’s owner for the purposes of liability under the Dog Owners’ Liability Act (the “Act”).

Facts of the case and the lower court’s decision – Wilk v. Arbour 

This claim arose after the plaintiff was injured while walking the defendant’s dog and the animal suffered a seizure and slid down an embankment. The plaintiff went after the dog, startled it, and was bitten.

She alleged that he had failed to give the dog its medication and secure its collar before the walk, which was a violation of the Act . She also argued that the defendant ought to have been aware that the dog was likely to have a seizure because it had missed its medication and not eaten.

At the lower court, the defendant brought a motion for summary judgment on two grounds. Firstly, he argued that the plaintiff was herself an “owner” of the dog under the Act and therefore could not use the act as the basis for her claim. He also said that the plaintiff being injured after the dog’s seizure was not a foreseeable consequence, as she could called and/or waited for help rather than go after the dog.

The motions judge disagreed that the plaintiff had “dominion and control” over the dog at the time of her injury, and was therefore an “owner” under the Act. However, the defendant succeeded on his second argument that the plaintiff’s injury was not reasonably foreseeable.

The Court of Appeal clarifies the definition of dog owner

On appeal, the Court of Appeal agreed that the plaintiff’s injury was too remote. Furthermore, they overturned the motion judge’s finding that the plaintiff was not an owner, and clarified the definition of dog owner under the Act.

An owner includes any person that steps in to the shoes of the owner, even if only on a temporary basis.

Implications of this decision for dog bite injuries and claims for compensation

This finding has confirmed that any person that has possession of a dog, regardless of whether they are the legal owner, has responsibility for keeping the animal safely controlled. This includes dog walkers, pet sitters, groomers, and even kennel and veterinary staff.

If you have been injured by a dog bite, even if the dog was in the possession of a person that was not its owner, you may have a valid claim for compensation. At Jasmine Daya & Co., our dedicated personal injury lawyers can help review your circumstances and help you decide how to proceed.

We offer free consultations for new clients. Contact us online, or call our office at 416-967-9100 to make an appointment.