Insurance Law

Can Animal Control Kill My Dog if it Bites Somebody?

Our four-legged friends are family, so it is natural to feel scared when dealing with a dog bite case. Each state handles dog bite laws differently, with many cities having even more specific ordinances on how the local animal control department should handle these incidents. You may be facing legal issues as well, so it is crucial to understand how dog bite injury laws work and how they may affect you and your dog.

Overview of Dog Bite Law

Dog bite law is unique in that it is a combination of civil injury law and criminal law. A dog bit victim can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover financial compensation for their physical injuries, injuries to their property or their animal, or on behalf of a loved one who died from the attack. Depending on the circumstances, you may face criminal charges under your local criminal statutes or specific dangerous dog laws if your dog attacks someone. Additionally, animal control may conduct their own investigation, which may come with serious consequences if your dog is declared dangerous.

Civil Personal Injury Claims

All dog owners have a legal duty to keep their dogs from injuring others and damaging property. If despite your efforts, your dog manages to bite or maul someone, you may still be responsible for their injuries or the financial harm caused by the attack. Many states hold the owner strictly liable, allowing the victim to recover damages for their injuries without proving any fault or negligence. Other states have adopted the "one bite rule," which means the owner may not be liable unless they had prior knowledge of the dog's dangerous or violent tendencies that may lead to an attack. If the court in a personal injury case determines the owner is liable, they may have to pay the victim damages for injuries such as:
  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Veterinary bills for dog-on-dog attacks
  • Replacement costs for dog-on-dog deaths
  • Property damage

Criminal Charges for Dog Bites

Many cities and states have dangerous dog laws and leash laws to protect citizens and other dogs from attacks. If any owner fails to comply with the laws in their jurisdiction, a court may impose criminal penalties as well as a court order for their dog to be euthanized. There are some extreme dog attacks resulting in severe injuries or death that may lead to a manslaughter charge or worse for the owner. This is typically reserved for instances where an owner deliberately or recklessly caused the dog attack to occur or used the dog in the commission of another crime.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

Determining the consequences you and your dog may face depends on the circumstances surrounding the incident. There may be mitigating factors that relieve you partially or fully of liability for the bite such as:
  • Your dog was protecting you from being attacked
  • Your dog was provoked or hurt by the person it attacked
  • The person the dog bit was unlawfully trespassing on your property
On the other hand, there are some aggravating factors that increase the severity of the attack such as:
  • You failed to leash your dog or keep it properly enclosed at your residence
  • Your dog seriously injured or killed another human
  • The victim was a young child
  • You enticed the incident or caused it to happen
  • The breed/size of your dog

Animal Control Investigations

When an incident with a dog occurs, typically a report is filed with the local animal control department by the injured person or law enforcement officer. Generally, animal control departments are required to report dog bites to local public health officials and begin the quarantine process until a determination is made. Failing to comply with your local quarantine procedure or other animal control orders may result in criminal charges. If someone sees you taking your dog for a walk, for example, animal control may come get your dog to move it to a shelter or another location to finish out the quarantine.

Post-Bite Quarantine Process

Rabies can greatly increase the severity of the victim's injuries, which may increase the financial damages you are liable for. The animal control department will come to get the dog, or you may bring it in yourself for a rabies test and quarantine. If your dog appears healthy, you may be able to bring your dog home for the duration of the quarantine period, which is typically 10 days. Dogs that appear rabid must stay at the city or county animal shelter until they are cleared or determined as rabid and euthanized.

Dangerous Dog Classification

In their investigation, animal control departments will look into the dog's temperament and bite history to determine if the dog is a dangerous or vicious dog. Typically, a dog that simply bites a human or another animal without causing a serious injury and has no history of attack will not be killed. However, if the state or local animal control department declares your pet as a "dangerous dog," there may be more serious consequences. Dogs with a previous history of attacks may be classified as dangerous or vicious and face euthanization. Dangerous dogs that are not euthanized typically are given an electrical implant or a tattoo so it can be permanently identified. Additionally, owners usually need to provide evidence that the dog will be properly and safely enclosed at the residence. You may be required to muzzle your dog or use a chain leash when your dog is out of its enclosure.

Challenging Euthanization Orders

All hope is not lost if animal control determines your dog is dangerous and orders euthanization. Either on your own or with the help of an attorney, you may challenge the euthanization order and request an appeal hearing. During the hearing, you may dispute the allegations or provide a defense to show why your dog should not be euthanized.

Dangerous Breeds

Some local governments consider some dog breeds as dangerous or vicious by default. If your dog is a purebred or a mixed breed of one of the following types, finding a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer or criminal defense lawyer is critical:
  • Pitbull
  • Doberman pinscher
  • Rottweiler
  • German shepherd
  • Akita
  • Chow chow
  • Wolf hybrids
  • Great Dane
  • Siberian husky
  • Staffordshire terrier
  • Cane Corso
  • Alaskan malamute
  • Presa Canario
  • Bullmastiff
However, many states also ban laws that target specific breeds of dogs. If you live in a city that has a breed-specific law in place, but your state bans ordinances like that, you have legal rights to fight back to protect your dog.