Animals are an important part of our lives, whether they are companions like dogs and cats or teammates like horses. But it’s important to know that animal owners can be held responsible if the animal injures someone.
In this article, Éducaloi explains when animal owners or caretakers can be held responsible for animals.
I own an animal. When can I be responsible for damage it causes?
You are responsible for animals you own. Under the law, “animal” is defined broadly. You can be responsible for injuries or other damage caused by your dog, cat, horse, cow, reptile, etc.
You can be held responsible for your animal if these conditions are met:
- the animal is in your care, for example, when you take it for a walk, bring it to a friend’s house or are in your own home
- the animal is in the care of a third party, for example, your neighbour is watching it while you’re away
- your animal is lost or has escaped
The law is strict toward animal owners: they are responsible under a “no-fault” system. This means that if your animal injures someone or causes damage, it does not matter that you weren’t at fault. It is enough that you owned the animal.
I’m not the owner, but I was in charge of an animal when something happened. Can I be sued?
Yes. Even if you’re not the owner, if an animal was in your care or control when it caused damage, both you and the owner can be held responsible.
For example, you could be responsible for the animal’s acts if you rent a horse for an outing, transport animals or operate a livestock exchange.
How can I avoid responsability?
Generally, if you own or are taking care of an animal, you are responsible for any damage the animal causes. Even if you take precautions, like posting signs warning that your dog is dangerous, or putting a leash on it, you are still responsible as the owner or custodian of the animal.
The only way you can partially or totally avoid responsibility is if you can prove that the damage was caused totally or in part by these reasons:
- the victim’s fault
- The victim could be found at fault if he did not take basic, reasonable precautions when dealing with unpredictable animals (by provoking an animal, trying to scare it, not taking necessary precautions, etc.).
- the fault of a third party
- an event or series of events considered to be an act of God (beyond human control) or fortuitous (unpredictable)
My neighbour’s dog bit my child. What do I have to prove to hold the owner responsible?
The law presumes that the owner or person in charge of the animal at the time of the incident is responsible. This person can escape responsibility by proving the incident was entirely the fault of the victim or a third party, or the result of something beyond human control. Otherwise, this person will be responsible if these elements are proved:
- the victim suffered harm caused by the animal
- the person being sued owned the animal or was in charge of the animal when the incident happened
My dog bit someone. Am I responsible for the injury if it was impossible to stop him?
Yes. A dog owner is responsible for injuries caused by the dog even if the owner had no control over the animal when the incident happened.
Are veterinarians or animal trainers responsible if an incident occurs while an animal is in their care?
Even if someone only has an animal temporarily to do a job and is not the owner, that person still has “custody” over the animal. If an incident occurs, that person could be held responsible because the animal was under the person’s control at the time.
The owner of a stable rented a skittish horse to an inexperienced rider. The horse bucked and injured another horse. Who can be held responsible?
First, the person who rented the horse: this person had custody over the animal at the time of the incident and was supposed to make sure that it did not cause damage.
Secondly, there is the owner of the animal. An owner who hands over a difficult animal to an inexperienced person commits a fault that can result in responsibility for what happens.
While running away from a dog chasing me, I fell and injured myself. Is owner of the animal responsible?
Yes. There does not have to be physical contact between the animal and the victim.
If an animal’s acts were the direct cause of the injuries, the owner could be held responsible.