Dog Bites and Animal Attacks
Dogs and other animals that are kept as pets or property can cause serious injuries and even lasting psychological trauma. Owners have a responsibility to protect others from the animals they choose to keep in their homes and businesses and can be held responsible if the animal causes an injury.
Animal bite laws and laws specifically regulating dogs vary by state, but generally the owners can be held responsible for injuries caused to another by their pets. However, other individuals and businesses, can be liable for an injury caused by animals in their custody, such as kennels, pounds, animal sitters, property owners that allowed the animal on their property, and landlords that are aware that their tenant is keeping a dangerous animal. Additionally, parents of minors that own an animal can be liable for their child’s pet’s actions.
Liability for Animal-Caused Injuries
Most states’ animal laws do not require that the animal’s owner acts negligently. They impose a strict liability standard, which means if someone’s pet bites another person and causes an injury, the owner is liable regardless of whether they took reasonable steps to prevent such an occurrence or whether the animal had a prior history of aggressiveness.
However, some states consider whether the injured party was partially responsible for the attack. For example, a person that provoked the animal or trespassed into an area where the animal was contained, may be found to be wholly or partially responsible for the attack.
Law enforcement is permitted to use dogs in the apprehension of criminal suspects and cannot be held liable for the injuries caused by police canines.
There are elevated obligations for owners of dogs that have been classified as dangerous. A dog is considered “dangerous” if it has done one or more of the following:
- Inflicted severe injury (e.g. broken bones, disfiguring lacerations, injuries requiring extensive sutures or cosmetic surgery) on a person without provocation
- Inflicted severe injury to another animal without provocation while off the owner’s property
- Attacked a person without provocation
- Been used in the commission of a crime
A dog can also be labeled “dangerous” if it has shown a propensity for attacking people or animals without provocation.
Responsibilities for Owners of Dangerous Dogs
In addition to the regular duties of all pet owners, the owners of dangerous dogs must also:
- Register their animals as such and maintain liability insurance coverage of at least $50,000
- Post a clearly visible warning that a dangerous dog lives on their property — and the signage must include symbols that children would recognize
- Muzzle the animal whenever it is not confined on their property
Get Legal Guidance to Understand Your Local Pet Laws
If you have been involved in an animal attack, seek medical attention and then take steps to protect your rights. Identify the dog and its owner and get contact information from any witnesses who may have observed the attack. Photograph any injuries you have sustained and file a dog bite report with your local animal control — and then contact an experienced legal professional who can help you understand your rights and obligations and get the compensation you deserve for your injuries.