Imagine if you will, two people being attacked by two different dogs in a city park. Both of these people have suffered severe injuries requiring extensive surgery. Both will be left with permanent scars. Both have incurred significant expenses and loss of earnings.
One of these people will receive substantial monetary compensation for his injuries. He will receive an award for his pain and suffering and will be compensated for all of his economic loss, both past and future. The other dog attack victim will not receive a penny. How is that possible, you ask?
The answer is simple. It all depends on where the dog lives. To be more specific, the determinative factor which will decide whether the victim of the attack will be compensated comes down to a single word – insurance.
If the owner of the attacking dog owns a home, then he or she will almost certainly be covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy. Homeowner’s insurance will cover a homeowner who is sued for damages caused by his or her dog. As the Dog Owner’s Liability Act of Ontario imposes close to strict liability on the dog owner for damages caused to another person by the owner’s dog, the victim of such an attack is virtually assured of being compensated for all, if not most, of his or her damages. If, on the other hand, the dog resides in a rooming house, apartment, or other residence where the dog’s owner is less likely to carry insurance then the victim’s only recourse is to sue the owner of the dog.
In those cases where the dog owner has significant assets to satisfy a substantial judgment, the victim will be protected. In most cases, however, the absence of insurance usually means the chances of recovering any compensation are usually very slim.
Compare this situation to the case where someone is the victim of a motor vehicle accident involving an uninsured motorist.
In Ontario, if you are seriously injured as the result of another person’s negligence involving an uninsured motor vehicle, you have recourse to your own car insurance policy which allows you to recover damages which would otherwise be recoverable against the uninsured owner/driver. In the event that you do not own a motor vehicle, there is still recourse against a fund established by the Ontario government known as the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund (MVACF).
This is a fund established by legislation which provides a maximum of $200,000 to victims of motor vehicle accidents where there is no other insurance available.
Unfortunately, there is no such fund available for victims of dog attacks who find themselves without recourse for compensation. Perhaps there should be.
When you renew your vehicle licence plate registration, you must provide proof of insurance. While all dogs in Toronto must be licenced, there is no requirement that the dog owner provide proof that they carry insurance in the event that their dog causes harm to another person. Perhaps there should be such a requirement. I am not suggesting that all dog owners must be property owners but perhaps there can be some type of insurance policy that covers pets. I would think that such a policy would be relatively inexpensive. Another possible solution might be for homeowners’ policies and tenants’ policies to contain a provision allowing the homeowner or tenant to claim against their own insurer for damages caused by an uninsured person, including that person’s pet in the event that there is no insurance available. This would be similar to the provisions contained in every auto insurance policy allowing victims to claim against their own insurer.
Another, solution, could be for the government to establish a fund similar to the MVACF to protect those victims of dog attacks who find themselves without recourse to insurance. Such a fund could be established by adding a nominal amount to the cost of renewing a dog licence thereby spreading the risk among all dog owners. As with the MVACF there could be a limit to the maximum available under the fund for each occurrence. Would this be fair? I believe so. Would it help rectify what I believe is currently a great injustice to dog attack victims? Absolutely.