Quebec woman awarded $460K after attack by three dogs; owner and municipality liable

By Joe Bongiorno, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — In March 2019, Dominique Alain was out jogging in Quebec’s Eastern Townships when she was mauled by three dogs, leaving her with life-threatening injuries to her arms and legs.

Those dogs had been involved in at least three other aggressive incidents in the years before they bit Alain.

Five years later, in a May 15 decision, Quebec Superior Court Justice Sylvain Provencher ruled that the dogs’ owner, Alan Barnes, and the municipality of Potton, Que., were solidarily liable to pay nearly $460,000 in damages to the victim and $75,000 to her spouse. 

The municipality had denied responsibility for the attack, claiming it was unaware of the danger the dogs posed, but the court disagreed. It said the municipality failed to enforce a bylaw concerning dangerous animals and that the town was made aware of the dogs’ history.

“It is highly probable that, had it not been for Potton’s negligence and failure to take appropriate measures to curb the threat — the presence of eminently aggressive and dangerous dogs circulating on public roads — the savage attack experienced by Alain at the hands of Barnes’s dogs … would not have taken place,” Provencher said in his written ruling.

The municipality of Potton, the judge added, was made aware of at least three separate instances — in 2016, 2017, and 2018 — of Barnes’s dogs acting aggressively. In one case, a town councillor was bitten but didn’t report the attack.

Alain, an active jogger and skier, was hospitalized for three months and underwent more than a dozen hours of surgery during multiple operations. Some of the damage — neurological and muscular — is permanent and, despite many hours in physiotherapy and more than a year of psychotherapy, she continues to suffer physically and mentally.

Barnes offered no defence and received a lifetime ban on owning dogs. 

Jonathan Gottlieb, the lawyer representing Alain and her husband, said his clients are satisfied with the judgment. And since the town and Barnes were held solidarily liable, he said, it’s up to his clients to decide from whom they will demand payment, adding that he expects the couple to choose the municipality to foot the bill. 

“Potton, like all municipalities, might be looking at themselves today and asking, ‘Am I doing enough to protect the residents of my town? Do our protocols sufficiently address complaints when they come in?'” he said.

“(Municipalities) cannot sit idly by and hope that nothing bad happens when they’re informed of a danger,” Gottlieb said. “I think that’s the lesson.”

The three dogs involved in the attack were euthanized in April 2019. 

The municipality of Potton declined to comment on the ruling.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2024.

Joe Bongiorno, The Canadian Press

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