Dog Bites & The Doctrine of Scienter

While dogs are known as “man’s best friend”, the unfortunate reality is that sometimes dogs, like any other animal, can cause serious injury to individuals, most often through biting. When a dog attack occurs due to the negligence of the owner, the injured victim can bring an action in negligence to be compensated for their injuries and losses if they can prove that their injuries and losses were a result of the negligence of the dog’s owner. If you can’t prove that there was negligence on behalf of the owner, your claim may be dismissed at trial.

However, there are some dog or animal attack cases where you do not need to prove that an owner is negligent and that their negligence resulted in injuries and losses. These are cases where the doctrine of scienter applies.

What Is the Doctrine of Scienter?

The doctrine of scienter, as it relates to animal attacks, basically stands for the proposition that if an owner is aware of an animal’s propensity to act in a certain way, that they will then be liable if that previously known propensity to act results in injury to another person. In these cases an injured party does not need to prove there was negligence on behalf of an owner, the doctrine of scienter will apply and there will be strict liability and the owner will be liable for all damages flowing from the attack, regardless of whether or not the owner did anything wrong.  

For example, if a dog has a known history of attacking people, and then attacks someone and injures them, the owner of that dog will be liable regardless of how the attack occurred. The important point is that the owner was aware of the propensity for the dog to attack humans, and as such is responsible for that propensity going forward. The requirement for pre-existing knowledge of a dog or other animal’s propensity to act in a certain way for the doctrine of scienter to apply, most often biting where it relates to legal actions, had led to scienter being referred to as the “one free bite” rule.  

Does Scienter Cover All Circumstances?

Interestingly, in order for the doctrine of scienter to apply, the actions that lead to injury of a party must be the same actions that the dog or animal is known to have a propensity towards. So if a dog has a history of attacking other animals, and then attacks a human, the doctrine of scienter may not apply. However, suppose that a dog with the propensity for attacking other animals attempts to attack another animal, for example, a dog and that dog’s owner attempt to intervene to protect their dog and are injured during that attack. The doctrine of scienter would likely apply as it was the attacking dog’s propensity to attack other animals which led to the injuries of the dog owner in that scenario.

It is not enough to have a history of dangerous behaviour to engage the doctrine of scienter, it requires that the specific dangerous behaviour that the owner was aware of caused the injury and losses to another individual.

As discussed previously, once scienter applies, the circumstances surrounding what led to the attack do not matter and the owner of the dog or animal is strictly liable for any damages from that dog or animal’s actions.

Experienced Dog Bite Lawyers

Dog bites and other animal attacks can result in significant and long-lasting injuries, including:

If you have been injured in an attack by a dog or animal attack, you should seek medical attention immediately.

The experienced personal injury lawyers at Taylor & Blair LLP have been helping people injured due to the negligence of others for over 30 years. We have handled many animal injury cases and can make sure you get the compensation you are entitled to. There are strict timelines in which you have to take steps if you wish to pursue an owner for the damages caused by their dog or other animal. If you fail to do so you may be barred by statute from seeking compensation.

Contact the lawyers at Taylor & Blair LLP today for a free consultation for your dog bite or animal injury claim.