Rocky is an 89 pound Doberman. One day, he escapes his owners’ enclosed yard and bolts towards a 61 year-old cyclist, knocking him from his bike. The cyclist suffers injuries including broken ribs and a fractured clavicle. Due to his injuries, the cyclist is unable to work for several months.
Prior to the incident, Rocky had never bitten a human and even played with the owner’s young children. However, Rocky had run towards passing cyclists in the past showing signs of aggression within the constraints of the owners’ electric fence.
The system was never tested and failed the day Rocky escaped.
A recent BC Supreme Court ruling found the dog owners liable for the cyclist’s injuries. Liability was based on the doctrine of “scienter” and negligence.
Scienter is a “long standing doctrine of law” that finds the owner of an animal liable if the plaintiff can prove three things:
- the defendant is the owner
- the dog had manifested a propensity to harm people
- the defendant knew of the propensity to harm people
In the case of the cyclist, “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,” says the Judge. “[The owners] 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.”
The Judge also found Rocky’s owners negligent for not containing Rocky with a “physical fence” or “large pen” rather than just the electronic fence. The judge also says the owners should have been testing their electronic fence regularly.
The owners knew or should have known that Rocky would run up to a cyclist with a real risk that he would knock the cyclist off his bicycle.
The cyclist is awarded $39,000 in damages.
For more information:
- Gallant v. Slootweg, Supreme Court
- Get Off Your Bike if a Dog Chases You, Karen Pryor Clicker Training