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Animal Bites Law

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Who Pays Damages for a Dog Bite?

If a dog bites a person, the owner of that dog may be held liable for any damages that the victim incurs. However, the owner’s exact liability may depend on state law as well as the circumstances surrounding the bite. For instance, if a dog was provoked or bit someone while on its owner’s property, the owner may not be totally liable. Let’s look at how liability may be determined and who may be responsible for paying dog bite damages.

Concepts of Dog Bite Liability

In most cases, it is considered negligence on behalf of the dog’s owner to allow it to bite someone unprovoked. However, not all states impose strict liability laws when it comes to dog bites. In some cases, the owner may invoke the one bite rule or use other defenses to rebut the assumption of negligence.

The One Bite Rule

The one bite rule says that a dog’s owner may not be liable for damages caused by a dog bite in the event that the dog has not shown signs of aggression in the past. If a dog’s owner was not in control of the animal, it may still be possible to prove that this person was negligent in allowing the dog to injure someone. In Texas, the law states that an owner does not owe a duty of care to anyone before an attack begins, but they may owe a duty to stop an attack even if it occurs in a place where the animal is allowed to be.

Propensity to Be Vicious

The one bite rule assumes that an owner does not know or has no reason to believe that a dog is vicious. If an owner does know or should know that a dog could be vicious, he or she may be held to a strict liability standard if it attacks someone. There are several factors that must be considered when determining if an animal is vicious.

Signs of viciousness that may be accepted by a court include growling, barking or jumping on people. If a dog was used for guard purposes or trained to attack for any reason, that may also suffice in a court. It should be noted that this does not prove beyond a doubt that the dog is actually vicious, and it also doesn’t absolve a victim from also exercising reasonable care when around a dog.

The breed of an animal alone may not be enough to show that it was vicious. In New York, the case of Bard vs. Jahnke affirmed that the state would not rule an animal to be dangerous simply because the breed may exhibit dangerous characteristics. Instead, there would need to be evidence that the individual animal exhibited signs that it could pose a threat.


The law commonly treats those who are invited to be on a property differently than those who have trespassed. Property owners generally do not owe a duty of care to trespassers. Loosely defined, trespassing is the act of entering someone’s property without their permission. For instance, a burglar who forces his or her way into a home is trespassing.

Of course, a person doesn’t have to commit a crime to trespass. If someone chooses to use his or her neighbor’s pool without permission, that may be considered trespassing. If that person were bitten by a dog who lives on the property, the dog’s owner may not be liable for injuries sustained by the victim.

Potential For Homeowners or Pet Insurance Coverage

In the event that a pet owner is deemed to be responsible for a dog bite, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she will have to pay a victim out-of-pocket. It may be possible to get a homeowners insurance policy that includes coverage for any damage that a dog or other pet may cause. However, most policies only cover damages up to the limits of the policy. Therefore, if a dog owner has a policy that covers dog bite damages up to $100,000, the dog’s owner may be responsible for anything over that amount.

To help offset some or all of these costs, a dog insurance policy may be ideal. Most pet insurance companies will offer coverage regardless of breed, but deductibles and other limitations may impact how much financial protection it will provide in a given case.

When a Dog Owner Faces Personal Liability

If a dog owner does not have a dog insurance policy or homeowners coverage that includes coverage for dog bites, he or she may have to provide this compensation out of pocket. This may also be the case if the amount of the damages exceeds coverage limits.

However, there may be options for the dog’s owner to avoid paying some or all of the damages. For example, it may be possible to appeal the original jury award if it exceeds state or federal award caps. In states like Arizona, punitive damages cannot be excessive while in California, the defendant must have the means to pay.

Those who are facing a lawsuit or other legal action after their dog bites another person may wish to contact an attorney. Doing so may make it possible to learn more about their rights under the law. It may also be possible to create a defense that may result in a dog owner facing limited or no liability in a dog bite case.

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