Bark of dog gang worse than bite on N.S. postie

Appeal court finds dog owners not negligent

After 12 years of litigation, the Canadian government has lost its appeal on behalf of a postal carrier “swarmed” by four dogs on his route.

Although the immediate injury to George Richardson was limited to facial cuts, he has not worked since the day in question, Oct. 5, 1987. Because he elected to receive compensation under the Government Employees Compensation Act, the government has been suing for reimbursement of the public purse.

The dogfight happened on the walkway in front of William Dingle’s residence in Halifax, N.S. Dingle’s daughters, Margaret and Jennifer, regularly left their three dogs with William, who owned a Kerry blue himself. He looked after the four dogs during the day — two Kerry blues, a Keeshond, and two mongrels, none of them known by the family or neighbours to be aggressive.

On the day in issue, Margaret dropped off her Kerry blue and left the front door ajar, as she found it, with the storm door latched. Then, Jennifer left her two dogs and did not close the inner door, although the storm door again was latched.

The storm door could be opened from the inside if one pushed on a bar that ran 2 1/2 inches across it, but the Dingles testified that it was often difficult to operate except very near the latch.

William Dingle was in his basement workshop when Richardson, the mail carrier, arrived. Richardson knew the dogs got very excited by his presence, and other mail carriers said the dogs were aggressive. In their excitement, the dogs jumped against the storm door and managed to open it.

They surrounded Richardson on the walkway, barking. Richardson swung his mail bag at them and one of the dog’s injured his face, either by biting or scratching him.

He has not worked from that time, and news reports say that he has lost his family, his home, and still suffers psychological and physical trauma. On occasion, he has been suicidal.

The trial judge held that William Dingle was not liable because he did not know the inner door was open. The judge also held that Jennifer was not liable because it was not reasonably foreseeable that the dogs could have opened the storm door if she left the inner door open.

Three judges of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal have upheld that decision, finding that the trial judge properly decided on the evidence that the dogs were rambunctious and excitable but not aggressive or vicious.

It was reasonably foreseeable, the higher court concedes, that the dogs could injure someone if they escaped, but the issue, they note, was whether it was possible for Jennifer to foresee the risk in leaving the inner door open.

The court concludes that a reasonable person in Jennifer’s shoes would not have contemplated that the dogs might open the storm door.

In other words, the trial judge was correct that it was not reasonably foreseeable that the dogs could hit the storm door with sufficient force to open it.

For more information:

Canada (Attorney General) v. Dingle Estate, Nova Scotia Court of Appeal docket CA 154271, Jan. 12/00.

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