Dog bites are a common injury in all states, and lawsuits stemming from dog-bite incidents form a substantial court caseload that doesn't seem to be shrinking as time goes on. In fact, in 2015, one-third of home liability insurance payouts were for dog-bite cases. If you're a dog owner or have been the victim of a dog bite, the laws in your state generally spell out who has responsibility and in what circumstances. However, there are enough exceptions to these laws that figuring out actual liability and damages can be confusing if you try to do it on your own. Dog attacks are no joke; they can result in very serious injuries requiring expensive medical attention. A dog bite lawyer can help you figure out if you have a case, and if so, how best to pursue it.

Strict Liability vs. Negligence

States tend to assign either negligence or something called strict liability to dog bites. Negligence means the state's negligence laws apply; for example, if you know your dog tends to try to bite strangers who approach it, and you take no steps to warn a stranger who attempts to pet the dog without permission, then you would be considered negligent if the dog were to have bitten the person. But if your dog has been a gentle sweetheart for its entire existence and then suddenly bites someone who was attempting to pet it, you might not be negligent because you had no idea the dog would bite.

Strict liability states aren't so kind. In those states, the dog owner is liable for a dog bite in almost every circumstance. If cute little Fido suddenly bites someone, even if you had no idea the dog had that ability, you're still liable in most circumstances. Ensuring you have renter's or homeowner's liability insurance that covers dog bites on your property (and possibly off-site as well) is a very good idea in both types of states.

The One-Bite Rule

Dog owners in negligence-based states are occasionally able to point to something called a one-bite rule. In its older form, the one-bite rule says an animal owner (the animal must be domesticated) is liable only if the owner truly could have known that the animal was capable of acting out and biting someone. The proof was usually that the animal had already bitten someone once (so basically, the animal gets a free bite before the owner is liable). The one-bite rule is not foolproof, however, and a dog owner can't assume that dog bite accidents involving their dog will qualify for this defense. Some states treat the one-bite rule and negligence as separate defenses.

Following Laws

Dog-bite victims in states where owners are liable if they should have known that the dog could be dangerous have a number of possible routes to claim that a first bite still assigns liability. In 2017, a 5-year-old girl was attacked by a pit bull at the airport in Portland, Oregon. She had asked for permission to pet the dog, which the owner claimed was an emotional support animal, but the dog ended up leaving her with serious injuries to her face. The girl's parents filed suit in 2019, blaming the owner, the airport, and the airline because the dog was not in a crate as required by airport regulations.

Trespassing and Provocation

Dog owners in strict-liability states still have two common defenses. One is that the person who was bitten was trespassing. The law does usually acknowledge that a dog-bite victim is to blame if the victim was unlawfully present on private property (e.g., a dog attacks an intruder sneaking around the backyard). Strict liability would apply if the bite happened on public property(except on police or military property or during police or military actions on public property) or when the person was lawfully on private property, where the person could expect a "standard of care" from the dog owner.

Provocation is another defense. Imagine two people, one with a dog, and the dog owner repeatedly tells the other person to stop trying to approach the dog. The other person insists on grabbing the dog suddenly and putting it in a tight bear hug, and the dog bites that person. Technically, the person who received the bite was annoying the dog to the point where the dog may have been defending itself, rather than offensively attacking the person. If the dog's owner can show that the bite was due to the victim provoking the dog, then the owner might not be liable.

Both dog owners and dog-bite victims need to speak with lawyers to determine where fault lies after dog bite accidents. Proceeding without consulting a dog bite lawyer could result in a poor outcome in court.

Author's Bio: 

Friedl Richardson is a boutique personal injury law firm located in Phoenix, AZ with more than 90 years of combined experience. Our firm has successfully represented a number of dog bite accident cases throughout Arizona. We regularly write about dog bites and how owners can reduce the risk of accidental injuries from their loved ones.