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Quebec woman mauled in dog attack wins $460K civil case against small town and owner

A woman who was mauled by dogs in 2019 has won her civil case against the dogs' owner and the Town of Potton. A Quebec Superior Court judge ordered the town and Alan Barnes to pay her nearly $460,000.

Attack could have been prevented if town had taken action, says judge

A woman holds up her arm which is covered in scars

Five years after Dominique Alain was attacked by dogs in Potton, Que., the town and the dogs' owner must pay her nearly $460,000 in damages.

On March 28, 2019, Alain, an active 55-year-old who enjoyed playing tennis and mountain biking, was out jogging in the municipality in Quebec's Eastern Townships when three dogs belonging to Alan Barnes mauled her.

The attack left Alain critically injured.

She had to be resuscitated at the hospital — undergoing 13 operations, 12 months in rehabilitation and 22 months of psychological treatment.

"She suffered a tremendous ordeal, but she has done her best to move forward," said Jonathan Gottlieb, Alain's lawyer.

"The injuries were catastrophic. We're talking about someone who was attacked so severely that her life was at risk."

In 2021, she sued both Barnes and the town. Barnes had offered no defence in the civil case and previously admitted responsibility.

In the decision delivered on Wednesday, Quebec Superior Court Justice Sylvain Provencher said Barnes was clearly responsible for the damage caused by his dogs that day.

Provencher wrote that Alain is "no longer the same woman."

"She has had to redefine herself, live differently, even give up some of her passions and, for others, live them at a different pace," read the judgment.

The decision orders Barnes and the Town of Potton to pay Alain for damages and future loss of revenue from being unable to work. They also must pay $75,000 to Leo Joy, Alain's husband, for his time supporting his wife.

Dogs had attacked other residents

It's a conclusion the couple is happy with, says Gottlieb.

"It was a difficult process for her, for sure," he said. "She had to relive the experience."

He says the town was found responsible because it knew about previous incidents involving Barnes's dogs.

"Sitting on one's hands as a municipality is not conduct that is acceptable," said Gottlieb.

While the outcome of this case does not necessarily set a precedent to hold municipalities responsible for every dog attack, Gottlieb says it shows towns must act if they are aware of a dangerous situation.

In his decision, Provencher enumerated several instances where town staff were made aware of incidents involving Barnes's dogs.

The municipality has a rule on animals, adopted in 2005, which states that people must advise it within 24 hours if a dog has bitten someone.

Court witnesses revealed the town employee responsible for overseeing the animal rule, Marie-Claude Lamy, was informed of the dogs' aggressive and potentially dangerous behaviour at least one time directly by a colleague.

And the court heard that Jason Ball, who became a town councillor, was biking near Barnes's home in 2017 when the dogs pursued him.

He had to climb off his bike and use it as a shield until Barnes intervened and apologized.

Ball testified that although the bite had broken the skin, he didn't think to report it because Barnes told him the dogs had never done anything like it.

In total, three incidents were reported to the city.

That same summer, Barnes's dogs viciously attacked another man, Yannick Savard.

The dogs bit his hands, wrists, right forearm, right ankle, both thighs, his left hip and buttocks — causing permanent physical and psychological damage, including losing grip strength in his hands.

Provencher said the incidents showed Potton didn't take its animal control responsibility seriously, "including the safety of citizens and people," on its territory.

"It is very likely that had it not been for Potton's negligence and failure to take appropriate measures to stem the threat … the savage attack by Barnes's dogs that Alain survived — and the damages that she and Joy suffered — would not have taken place," Provencher wrote.

In 2021, Barnes pleaded guilty to one charge of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and was sentenced to six months in jail. He is prohibited from owning dogs for the rest of his life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Watts

CBC journalist

Rachel Watts is a journalist with CBC News in Quebec City. Originally from Montreal, she enjoys covering stories in the province of Quebec. You can reach her at rachel.watts@cbc.ca.

With files from Émilie Warren, Verity Stevenson, Matthew Lapierre and Radio-Canada

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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