Animal Bites Law
Am I Liable if My Dog Bites Someone?
No matter how calm or gentle dogs may seem, they have the potential to bite another person or animal. Dog bites can happen to an owner in their home, to friends or loved ones, or to neighborhood children if the dog gets loose. When this happens, a dog’s owner can be legally liable in a personal injury lawsuit.
Dog bite laws are different in every state, and some counties and cities have their own dog bite statutes. If your dog bit someone or you were the victim of a dog attack, a local personal injury lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options.
Dog bite liability is based on state law. Depending on the state, dog owners can be responsible for any bite liability claims. In other states, owners need to be aware of prior attacks or aggressive behavior to be held liable. Types of dog bite liability laws include:
- Strict liability dog-bite statutes
- One-bite rule
- Owner’s negligence
Some states, like California and Florida, have laws that hold a dog’s owner liable for any bite or injuries that happen. For strict liability, you are responsible even if the dog has never attacked anyone, never bit anyone, or never showed any kind of aggressive behavior.
Some counties, cities, and municipalities also have dog leash laws that require dogs to be on a leash when out in public. If a dog is off-leash, you can be liable in a dog bite lawsuit for any medical expenses that occur.
Other states, like Texas and Virginia, have a “one-bite rule.” Under most one-bite rules, dog owners are not liable for bite injuries the first time a dog bites someone. However, after the first bite, you are effectively on notice that your dog is dangerous. After warning signs of dangerous behavior, you are liable for any later attacks.
For states that don’t have specific laws for dog bite injuries, general negligence rules generally apply. Negligence means that you may be liable for damages to an injured person if you were unreasonable in handling your dog. If you did something a reasonable dog owner would not have done, you may be liable for damages.
For example, if a dangerous dog had been violent in the past, a dog owner showing reasonable care would take steps to make sure the dog was on a leash and cannot get out of a fenced area. If that owner doesn’t secure their property and the dog bites someone, the owner could be considered negligent and have to pay for medical bills.
Under premises liability laws, a private property owner’s duty of care may change depending on who is on the property. If you invite someone to your home and you own a dog, you generally owe that visitor a duty of care, like keeping a dangerous dog confined to an outdoor space while visitors are present.
There are exceptions to dog bite owner liability laws. In some cases, a person who is injured by animal bites could be found responsible. For example, if someone provoked your dog, liability may shift to that person.
A trespasser is someone who is not allowed to be on the premises or shows up uninvited. For example, if a burglar entered your house’s fenced-in yard to steal some tools, you may not be held liable if your dog. However, there may be exceptions depending on the type of property or if the trespasser is a child.
The person who is liable for a dog bite is generally responsible for paying for medical treatment and property damage in a personal injury case. If you own or rent a home and are responsible for a dog bite, your renter’s insurance or homeowner’s insurance policy may cover dog bite claims.
However, after a dog bite lawsuit, your insurance company will likely increase your insurance premium. For legal advice about a personal injury claim, talk to an attorney with experience defending against personal injury claims for help.