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According to figures published by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year, causing an estimated 800,000 injuries that need medical attention.
As a dog owner, you will usually be responsible if your pet bites a person or animal, and you may have to compensate the victim for their pain and suffering, along with any medical costs and loss of earnings from time off work. This article will set out the general principles relating to the legal liability of dog owners when their pet injures someone.
Dog Owner Liability
The liability of a dog owner for any bites or injuries inflicted by their dog will differ according to the laws of their state. There are effectively two rules that impose liability on dog owners: one is irrespective of what the owner knew about their dog prior to the bite, and the other is when the owner knew or should have known that the animal might act dangerously. You could be liable in a civil claim if your dog bites or injures someone in one or more of the following situations:
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1. Dog-bite statute
Most states in the U.S. impose “strict liability” laws for dog bite injuries. This means that the dog owner is automatically liable if his or her dog bites someone, irrespective of whether the owner was at fault. This will still be the case even when the owner did not know their dog could be dangerous.
Strict liability dog bite laws hold the owner financially responsible if their dog bites someone unless the injured person was trespassing at the time of the attack or provoked the dog.
Under these laws, the injured person does not have to prove that the pet owner knew their dog was dangerous or that the dog owner was negligent, hence the term ‘strict liability.’
2. One-bite rule
In states that do not impose strict liability laws, dog owners will be held liable for injuries only if they knew or should have known that their pet was likely to injure someone. If the dog has previously bitten someone or showed a “vicious propensity” this can serve as evidence that the owner knew their pet could cause injury to another.
However, where this is not the case, the dog owner will not be held liable in the first instance when their dog inflicts injury or demonstrates aggressive tendencies towards others. As a result, a dog owner may only be held liable if they are aware that their dog has displayed dangerous behavior in the past. They may also be held liable in some cases if they know that their specific breed of dog is dangerous or likely to cause harm to another.
The burden of proof will fall on the victim to prove that the dog owner knew their pet had a tendency to bite or cause injury, in which case the owner could face legal liability for their injuries.
3. Negligence laws
Under this law, the dog owner is responsible if the victim can prove their injury occurred because the owner was careless, or negligent in controlling their dog’s behavior. This could be the case where a pet owner disregards local leash laws by letting their dog run loose and bite someone.
In cases where a dog owner’s negligence causes injury to another, the injured party may consider filing a personal injury claim against them. In order to bring a valid personal injury claim against a dog owner, the injured party must be able to prove that:
- The dog owner owed a duty of care to prevent their dog from causing them harm.
- The dog owner failed to exercise reasonable care in controlling their dog, resulting in harm to the claimant. For example, they may have failed to show sufficient restraint or supervision or failed to keep them on a leash or in a safe enclosure.
- The dog owner, therefore, breached their duty of care resulting in injury to the claimant.
If successful, they may be able to receive damages for their injuries and any medical bills associated with them. These may be substantial and depending on the extent of their injuries could include costs such as hospitalization, reconstructive surgery, medication, and rehabilitation. In addition, an injured party may also recover damages for matters like lost wages, property damage, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.
To help you get the right outcome in your dog bite claim, it is advisable to seek specialist legal help by consulting this Nashville dog bite attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and recover the compensation you rightfully deserve.
4. Other Animals
It is worth noting that a dog owner could be legally responsible if their dog attacks another animal. Most laws classify dogs, cats, and other animals as the personal property of the owner and an injured dog or cat owner can sue for property damage. This means dog owners must also take reasonable steps to control and restrain their dogs to prevent them from causing harm to other animals.
This might include using leashes and muzzles or keeping their dogs locked behind a secure gate. An owner who has a dog that is prone to chasing cats for example, ought to take reasonable precautions by keeping it on a leash when out for walks and near other animals.
If a dog causes harm to another person’s pet, the injured pet’s owner may be able to sue them for property damage. In such cases, recoverable damages are limited to economic damages only and include things like compensation for their pet’s loss of economic value, veterinary bills, and other related expenses.
If your dog displays aggressive tendencies or acts dangerously towards other animals, it is advisable to invest in obedience training which can help to correct such behaviors. For example, you may consider courses that help your dog get along better with cats or other dogs, reducing the risk of your pet injuring another animal.To avoid legal liabilities and ensure the safety of others, dog owners need to be aware of their duty of care towards both people and other animal