Chilliwack man awarded $40,000 for being hit off bike by dog

Chilliwack Central Road. - Paul J. Henderson
Chilliwack Central Road.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

A man knocked off his bike on a rural Chilliwack road by an off-leash Doberman was awarded nearly $40,000 by the BC Supreme Court.

Joseph Leon Gallant was riding along Chilliwack Central Road on Jan. 1, 2012 when a dog, Rocky, ran from a property owned by Peter and Trudy Slootweg and knocked him to the ground.

The 61-year-old broke his collarbone and two ribs in the incident.

In a decision rendered in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Aug. 19, and posted online on Aug. 28, Justice Brian Joyce awarded Gallant $25,000 in non-pecuniary damages, $13,068 in lost earning capacity and $1,050 for damages to his bike.

Gallant sued the Slootwegs for damages on two legal bases: negligence as well as the doctrine of “scienter.”

Scienter is a long-standing legal doctrine that places liability on the owner of an animal who attacks as long as the owner has a dog with a propensity to cause harm and the owner is aware of that propensity.

The defendants argued that scienter shouldn’t apply, because Rocky was not “of a vicious or dangerous nature,” and Gallant had not proven otherwise.

They also claimed they were not negligent because, even though Rocky would frequently run alongside cyclists on Chilliwack Central Road, the dog never left the property because of an electronic fence.

On Jan. 1, 2012, however, the electronic fence wasn’t working and Joyce concluded the Slootwegs were negligent because “a reasonable person would not place reliance solely on such a device to secure their dog and prevent it from causing harm to users of the road.”

Joyce also agree that the defendants are liable on the basis of scienter since Rocky would chase cyclists while barking and getting as close to them as he could while restrained by the electronic fence.

“I am satisfied that Rocky’s actions constituted a propensity to cause harm to cyclists by knocking them from their bicycles if he was not restrained within the yard,” Joyce wrote.

The total award of $39,118 fell between what the two parties were asking. Gallant wanted $25,000 in lost wages and between $30,000 and $35,000 for non-pecuniary damages. The Slootwegs sought non-pecuniary damages in the $8,000 to $15,000 range.

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