What are dog owner’s legal responsibilities?

In the past, under the common law, a dog owner was liable for any damage or injury caused by their dog if the owner had knowledge of previous harm done by the dog.

We would say that “every dog was allowed one bite”.

The dog owner could also rebut or refute liability if he or she could show that the person attacked was the author of his or her own misfortune.

The law has now changed. It is governed by the Dog Owners Liability Act. The Dog Owners Liability Act does not require knowledge of the propensity of the dog. It also does not require fault on the part of the owner. If the dog attacks someone, the owner is responsible for the damage caused by the dog.

Under the Dog Owners Liability Act, however, the court can reduce the amount of damages awarded in proportion to the degree if any to which the victim caused or contributed to the attack.

If the victim of the attack is a child, and the child caused or contributed to the attack, liability of the owner will only be reduced if the child could fully appreciate the specific kind of risk or danger involved. This is a subjective test. The question is whether the child, having regard to his age, intelligence, experience, general knowledge and alertness, is capable of contributing to his own misfortune.