Animal Bites Law

How Do I Defend a Dog Bite Claim?

If a dog bites someone, that person may suffer significant injuries. In such a scenario, the dog's owner may be liable for medical bills, lost wages and other damages an individual may experience. However, it may be possible that the victim might be partially or fully liable for his or her injuries instead. Let's look at what the law may have to say about liability in a dog bite case.

One Bite Rule

In some states, dog owners may escape liability under what is known as the "one-bite rule." Typically, such a law states that a dog's owner might not be liable if there was no reason to suspect that the dog would have attacked or caused injury to a person. Furthermore, a dog's owner may also escape some or all liability if he or she was unaware of previous instances of aggression by that animal. Essentially, the dog gets "one free bite."

However, it is important to know that most states, like California or Illinois, have either strict liability statutes, which state that the dog owner is liable for damages regardless of mitigating circumstances, or mixed liability rules like New York does. In New York, a person may be strictly liable for medical bills incurred by a person after a dog bite.

Plaintiff Provocation or Trespassing

For the owner of a dog to be liable for injuries incurred after being bitten by a dog, it must generally be shown that the attack was not provoked. A victim may also need to show that he or she was not trespassing when the bite occurred. In most cases, a victim is at least partially liable for damages incurred after a bite if he or she took actions such as throwing a stick at the animal or pulling its tail.

If it can be shown that a dog was harassed or otherwise provoked into attacking someone, the animal's owner is generally not liable for damages. This is typically true even if a state has a strict liability law. It may also be true in some cases even if a dog has been labeled as vicious or dangerous.

A dog and its owner might also not be liable for damages incurred when someone is trespassing on a property. This is because a dog or property owner owes no duty of care to someone who is on private property without invitation. In layman's terms, it means that a person cannot just walk up to a dog on someone else's yard and start petting or otherwise touching it. Victims may also be held accountable for their actions if they are hurt trying to attack the dog's owner or if someone was trying to take the dog from its home.

State-Specific Rules

Many states have statutes that require dog owners to notify a person who may be approaching a property with a dog on it. It could also be necessary for a dog owner to keep a dangerous dog locked up inside the home or confined to a single space within a yard. In Pennsylvania, for example, dog owners must either keep a dangerous dog inside or in a penned area when outdoors.

Putting Up Signs

If a sign is posted on or near a home saying that a dangerous dog is present, it may reduce the owner's liability in the event that a bite occurs. In the state of Florida, a dog owner may not be liable for a bite if a sign with the words "bad dog" is posted. The only exception to such a law is if the victim is under the age of six.

In many states, having a sign by itself does nothing to reduce a dog owner's liability. What it may do is help to show that an owner took steps to mitigate a potentially dangerous condition. If the dog was kept inside or otherwise in a spot where it couldn't hurt anyone, the owner can further show that the dangerous condition was mitigated.

Exemptions for Law Enforcement

In most states, it is lawful in certain circumstances for a dog that belongs to law enforcement to bite an individual. In Texas dog bite cases, it may also be a valid defense to claim that the dog was part of a search and rescue mission or was otherwise being used at the request of law enforcement. Texas law may also make it a valid defense to point out that a dog was on a leash at the time it bit a person.

However, there are exceptions to rules regarding police dogs and liability. For instance, if a dog bites unreasonably hard or otherwise acts in an unreasonable manner, it may be akin to the officer using unreasonable force in a case. Furthermore, a police dog that bites a person who is not a suspect might also be acting outside any exemptions granted to police dogs.

Dog owners may be sympathetic to the plight of anyone who is hurt by their animal. However, they are not necessarily responsible for what happened to that person. It may be best for those who own a dog to talk with an attorney to learn more about their rights. Legal counsel might be able to help create a defense to allegations of negligence or otherwise use the law to create leverage in settlement talks.