History of Violence Not Necessary For Dog Injury Claim To Succeed

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, addressing liability when a dog leaves its owners property and causes harm to others.
In today’s case (Gallant v. Slootweg) “the defendants’ dog, “Rocky”, ran from their property, apparently unimpeded by the electronic fence that was intended to keep it within the property, towards the plaintiff and knocked him from his bicycle“.  The Plaintiff suffered orthopeaddic injuries and sued for damages.
The dog did not have a history of violence but did have “a propensity to chase cyclists”.  The Defendant’s argued that this was not sufficient to establish liability as the dog did not have a history “of a vicious or dangerous nature” and that installing an electronic fence was a sufficient step to prevent a finding of negligence.  Mr. Justice Joyce disagreed and found the defendants  liable in both negligence and under the principles of scienter.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:
[24]         It is not necessary, however, for the plaintiff to show that the dog has actually caused the particular harm in the past; what is required is to show that the defendant knew or ought to have known that the dog had a propensity or manifested a trait to do that kind of harm. ..
[32]         I am satisfied that Rocky had a propensity to chase cyclists while barking and get as close to them as he could within the electronic restrain to which he was ordinarily subject, and to follow them as they traversed in front of the defendants’ yard. I am satisfied that Rocky’s actions constituted a propensity to cause harm to cyclists by knocking them from their bicycles if he was not restrained within the yard. I am further satisfied that the defendants knew, or ought to have known, that if not restrained, Rocky would run right up to a cyclist, barking at the cyclist and creating a very real risk that he would impede the travel of the bicycle. The defendants had watched Rocky run the length of the front yard getting as close to cyclists as he could within the boundaries of the electronic fence, which was the only method that they employed to restrain Rocky from going right up to the cyclists. The harm the Rocky caused on this occasion was the very kind of harm that, in my view, Rocky had demonstrated a propensity to inflict.
[33]         I conclude, therefore, that the defendants are liable on the basis of scienter.
[34]         I am also satisfied that the defendants are liable on the basis of negligence. In my opinion, they knew that the only thing that was keeping Rocky from running up to cyclists using the road in front of their property, and likely knocking them from their bicycles, was the electronic fence. It is my view, that a reasonable person would not place reliance solely on such a device to secure their dog and prevent it from causing harm to users of the road, when they were aware of the risk of harm if Rocky got free from the confines of the electronic fence. Unlike a physical fence or a large pen, it is not possible to readily observe that the electronic fence is in good repair.
[35]         Further, the operating manual that the defendants received when they purchased the fence warned them that the fence was a deterrent, not a barrier and advised that there was no guarantee that a pet could be trained to avoid crossing the boundary.
[36]         In order to meet a reasonable standard of care to ensure Rocky was kept within the property would not have required the defendants to incur the expense of fencing the whole of the property. They could have built a large “dog run” that would have provided Rocky with ample exercise room when not on leash, in the company of someone able to restrain him. Alternatively, they could have used a chain for Rocky that would not physically permit him to go beyond the property and onto the roadway.
[37]         Further, I find that having adopted the electronic fence as the only means of preventing their dog from escaping onto the road and charging passers-by, they were negligent in not ensuring that it was working properly by testing it on a frequent basis. While it is not known precisely when the receiver failed to operate, they had not tested it for months. They only checked the transmitter on a daily basis. Even when the defendants replaced the batteries and tested the receiver after the incident they found that did not operate consistently. If they had tested it regularly, it is likely that they would have discovered that it was not safe to rely on the electronic fence system to retrain Rocky.
 

bc injury law, Gallant v. Slootweg, Mr. Justice Joyce, Scienter

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ERIK
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When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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