Over 4 million dog bites occur each year; 20% result in injuries requiring medical attention. The law governing liability for dog bite injuries comes from a combination of city or county ordinances, state statutes, and case law.
Some states implement what is referred to as the “one free bite” rule. In those states the owner is liable only if the owner knows the dog has a “dangerous propensity”. Usually this means the owner is protected from liability for the first injury caused by the dog. Some states or cities have statutes or ordinances that specifically identify certain breeds of dogs as vicious. Those rules can overcome the one free bite rule, but many locales are doing away with such breed-specific regulations.
Most states apply a strict liability rule. This means the owner is liable for injuries caused by the dog regardless of whether the owner knew the dog had a dangerous propensity. In Utah, for example, the state statute says, “Every person owning or keeping a dog is liable in damages for injury committed by the dog, and it is not necessary… to prove that the dog was of a vicious or mischievous disposition or that the owner or keeper of the dog knew that it was vicious or mischievous.” UCA 18-1-1(1)
In some states, like Utah, liability is not limited to owners. The statute quoted above also imposes liability on keepers of dogs, as well. In many cases it is important to know not just who owns the dog, but who was actually keeping and caring for the dog at the time of the bite or attack.
Even in a strict liability state, the injured person’s actions can be used against them to avoid liability. Common defenses to dog bite liability include claims that the injured person was trespassing, provoking the dog, teasing the dog, or attempting to harm the owner or keeper of the dog.
It’s also important to know that dog bite cases are often complicated by the nature of the relationship between the parties. Unfortunately, many dog bites are frequently caused by dogs owned by friends, neighbors, or relatives. Consequently, dog bite cases must be handled and approached differently than other types of personal injury cases.
If you’ve been bitten or attacked by a dog, seek medical attention immediately. Generally, dog bites result in scars that require special medical attention and leave permanent reminders of the traumatic event. Bites can also result in crush injuries, infections, and emotional injuries.
As in other cases, photographs can be used as powerful evidence in dog bite cases. Important photos include those taken immediately after the incident, at the hospital, during recovery, and after recovery (showing the permanent scarring.)
If you would like to know your rights with respect to a dog bite or attack, please contact us. At Kent Law Group we have extensive experience with dog bite claims and will be able to tell you if you have a claim and what compensation you should expect to recover.