What Happens if a Dog Bites Someone on Your Property?
what happens if a dog bites someone on your property? Whether invited guest, trespasser, or salesperson, you may be held liable in certain circumstances. An even bigger question is who pays the expenses related to a dog bite lawsuit?
Below you’ll learn about the different scenarios in a dog bite lawsuit involving an incident on your property, as well as a brief primer on whether your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance will cover the alleged damages. Keep in mind, this is a general overview and each state has its own, unique dog bite laws and statutes. Be sure to check the laws in your state or contact a local attorney to learn more.
Premises Liability: What Standard of Care Do You Owe?
The first thing we should look at in a dog bite case on your property is premises liability. When a person enters your property they have a reasonable expectation they will not be injured. This is known as the “standard of care.” A homeowner owes a certain standard of care to anyone on their property. That’s pretty fair, right? This means the owner or occupier of the property, such as a renter, must maintain a relatively safe environment for all persons entering the premises. This includes keeping potentially dangerous animals away from guests or being sure to put up warning signs about the animal’s propensities.
Invited Guests and Others
In most situations, dog owners owe a reasonable duty of care to anyone lawfully on their property. If the injured person can show the owner’s negligence or failure to use reasonable care in restraining the dog or warning of the dog’s dangerous propensities, they may sue for damages in many states.
You may find it shocking to know that the law in a minority of states actually allows trespassers who are bitten by your dog on your property to bring a lawsuit. It will ultimately depend on both the state you are in and whether or not there is a dog bite statute in place that protects owners from liability to trespassers. For instance, Florida’s dog bite statute only allows persons to sue the owner or occupier if they are bitten by a dog and that person is in a public place or lawfully in a private place. Simply put, a person is not lawfully in a private place if they are trespassing, attempting to commit a burglary, or other criminal offense.
If your Chihuahua Daffodil has sunk her teeth into people in the past, you are on notice that she can be considered dangerous under the law. In that case, if Dangerous Daffodil bites someone on your property, the homeowner or occupier may be held strictly liable. A safeguard against this, however, is to put up a warning sign, indicating there is a dangerous dog on the property.
Who Pays When Fido Bites?
One important tip is that if you do own a dog and are concerned about being held liable if they bite another person, you may want to consider homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Most policies have some form of coverage available in the event you are sued due to an animal bite on your property. There are also certain types of pet insurance policies you may be able to get to cover these incidents. Ultimately, if you have neither of these, you can be held personally liable if you lose a lawsuit against an injured party.
Defenses for Dog Owners
There are few defenses available to dog owners whose pets cause severe injuries. The two most common include trespassing and provocation. As previously mentioned, a dog owner has no duty of care to prevent injury to a trespasser, nor is a dog owner responsible for a dog retaliating against provocation.
If someone injures the dog, threatens the dog physically, or takes inappropriate action against the dog’s owner, the owner is not liable for the dog attacking out of self-defense or in defense of its owner.
Contributory negligence comes into play in many dog bite lawsuits in Pennsylvania. If a jury decides that a dog bite victim contributed to his or her injuries in any way, this contributory negligence does not necessarily bar the victim from recovery. However, the victim would lose a portion of the case award equal to his or her percentage of fault for the incident. Additionally, if the jury decides the plaintiff’s fault exceeds the defendant’s, then the plaintiff cannot recover damages.
Seek Swift Medical Attention and Contact Law Enforcement
If a dog bites someone, your initial reaction might be shock. And, if you’re the property owner that owns the dog, panic might set in as you worry if you’re liable.
Stay calm and do the following:
- Move the dog away from the person. Tie the dog up or put it in a separate room where it can’t get loose.
- If the injuries are severe, seek medical help right away.
- Treat the person that was bitten. Gently wash their wound with warm water and soap. If there’s bleeding, stop the bleeding with gauze or paper towels and apply pressure to the wound.
- Avoid placing blame or admitting fault. What you say can sometimes be used against you.
- If there were witnesses get their statements and contact information.
- When law enforcement arrives, let them assess the situation. They will determine if the dog should be removed.
- Contact your veterinarian for the dog’s medical records.
- Contact your home insurance provider.
What to Know If Your Dog Bites Someone
Did your dog bite someone? Learn about the statutes holding dog owners responsible for their pet’s actions. Find out if you need a personal injury lawyer.
If you’re a dog owner and your pet has bitten someone, you may be concerned about your legal rights. What if that person decides to press charges? There are three main types of laws that place liability for dog-caused injuries on the dog’s owner. If a victim proves you guilty under any of these three laws, you may be financially liable for any personal injury or property caused by your pet. In any of these cases, a personal injury lawyer can help you defend yourself in court. A lawyer can help explain which laws are used in your state and which ones might apply to your situation.
Most states have dog-bite statutes, which make owners financially responsible for all injuries caused by their dog—not just by bites. Even if you weren’t being careless, you could be held financially liable for any injury caused by your dog without provocation.
The One-Bite Rule
If you, as an owner, knew that your dog had the potential to bite someone, then any person attacked by your dog could automatically win a lawsuit. In order to prove that you had prior knowledge of your dog being dangerous, they can reference previous bites or aggressive behavior. Since the state of New York uses the one bite rule, some people mistakenly believe that they cannot possibly be liable the first time their dog bites someone. Actually, you may still be vulnerable to a lawsuit if they can prove that you knew that your dog was dangerous.
If you were unreasonably careless (also known as negligent) in controlling your pet, then you are liable for any damage they cause. For example, if you leave your front door open while you are in the bathroom, your dog could run outside to bite the postman. In that circumstance, the postman would have a good chance of proving that you were unreasonably careless and therefore responsible for covering his personal injury damage.
Dog Bite Liability
First, it is important to discuss the situations in which dog owners hold liability for the damages their dogs cause during a bite or other attack situation. In fact, Colorado is a unique dog bite law state. While most other states assign either strict liability or negligence under premises liability laws, Colorado utilizes a combination of the two.
When a dog bite causes severe bodily damage or death, Colorado’s dog bite statute comes into play. The statute assigns strict liability to the dog owner. Strict liability applies even if the owner had no way of knowing the dog would act aggressively. Liability also applies regardless of a dog’s past non-aggressive status. Several severe bodily injury bites can occur.
- Bites causing severe injuries that lead to a substantial risk of death
- Bites causing permanent disfigurement
- Bites causing the loss or severely reduced use of a limb, organ, organ system, or other body part
- Bites causing fractures, broken bones, or burns
Conversely, if the resulting injuries are not severe, regular premises liability or other negligence rules may apply. The victim must prove that the dog’s owner failed to provide reasonable care in order to control the dog or prevent it from causing injury to others. Then, the victim must prove that the situation directly caused the dog bite injuries.