Millions of Americans own dogs. For the most part, the dogs serve a dual purpose. They’re pets or companions, and at the same time they provide security for their owners and their families. Sometimes, however, the security aspect backfires. Every year, millions of people are bitten by dogs and often become victims who need medical attention. In some rare cases, the victim dies.
Suddenly, the dog that’s supposed to protect you from losses – like theft – causes you huge financial losses. In addition to potentially paying for the victim’s injuries, you’ll have legal expenses of your own to cover as well. As a dog owner, it’s important that you have an understanding of:
Just about every state has some sort of law that deals with dog attacks. These laws can vary considerably from state to state, so you need to check the laws in your area to see how dog bites are treated. In general, though, there are three basics types of laws that may make you legally responsible or “liable” for injuries or damages caused by your dog:
Many states, such as California, New Jersey, and Ohio, have strict liability laws regarding dog bites. Basically, a strict liability law means that you, as the dog’s owner, are liable for just about every injury your dog causes. It doesn’t matter if you were aware that your dog was dangerous or that it had bitten someone in the past. It also doesn’t matter if you did everything you could to restrain your dog or to protect the public from the dog, such as install fencing and warning signs.
There are a few exceptions, though. Even in a strict liability state, you’re usually not liable if your dog bites:
In some states, like Texas or Virginia, you’re generally not liable for injuries caused by your dog’s first bite. That means your dog gets one “free” bite, and you’ll be liable for injuries caused on the second bite. For example, your dog, for the first time ever, bites someone as she walks past your home. Then, a few days later, your dog bites another person as he walks by. In a “one bite” state, assuming you didn’t violate some other law (like a leash law) or weren’t negligent (you left the fence gate open), you won’t be liable for the first victim’s injuries. However, because you knew the dog had bitten someone in the past (the first victim), you’ll probably be liable for the second victim’s injury.
Again, there are some exceptions here. The “one bite” rule doesn’t protect you if, before the first bite, you actually knew, or had a reason to believe, that your dog had a dangerous propensity. “Dangerous propensity” is legal jargon that means you knew, or should have known, that your dog could hurt someone. It can be shown in any number of ways, including if:
Almost all states have laws that hold the owner responsible for injuries caused by your negligence or “negligent acts.” Negligence is a complicated area of law, with many factors and exceptions. In simple terms, though, negligence is when you do something you shouldn’t have done, or don’t do something you should have, which causes another’s injuries.
When it comes to dog bites, you may be negligent if your dog bites someone because:
In some states, negligence can be used to hold you liable even if you may not be liable under the strict liability or one-bite law in your state.
Also, you need to keep in mind that many local governments (like cities, boroughs, and townships) have laws, ordinances, or regulations about controlling dogs. It’s important that you talk to your lawyer as a soon as possible if you’re sued, or think you may be sued, over a dog bite.