Dog Bite Laws

In the U.S., dog bite laws vary from state to state. The majority of states hold the dog’s owner responsible for dog bite injuries, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the dog attack. A few states impose more specific dog bite laws. These laws dictate that the dog bite victim must prove that the dog was vicious, or that the dog attack was caused by the negligence or illegal behavior of the owner or another individual.

Strict Liability Dog Bite Laws

More than half of U.S. states impose strict liability dog bite laws. Strict liability dog bite laws hold the dog owner responsible, whether or not the dog was believed to be dangerous before the dog attack occurred. The term “strict liability” refers to the fact that the dog’s owner is held liable without fault. This means that the plaintiff, or victim filing the dog bite lawsuit, does not need to prove that the dog owner acted wrongly during any point before, during, or after the dog bite.

Proving Strict Liability

In these states, the plaintiff must prove the following in order to win a dog bite lawsuit:

  • The plaintiff was injured or attacked by a dog
  • The defendant, or individual being sued, owns or is legally responsible for the dog
  • The plaintiff did not provoke or knowingly cause the attack
  • The plaintiff was behaving peaceably in a place where he or she had the legal right to be

One-Bite Rule

The “one-bite rule” states that the dog owner is only liable for dog bite injuries in certain circumstances. To prove a dog owner’s liability, the plaintiff must prove in court that the owner was aware or should have been aware that his or her dog was likely to inflict the type of injury in question. For example, if a dog attempts to bite someone, the owner becomes liable due to the knowledge that the dog may be dangerous. Once an owner becomes aware of a dog’s dangerous tendencies, it becomes his or her responsibility to protect others by preventing potentially dangerous encounters with others.

Avoiding Owner Liability

In some cases, the dog owner may be able to avoid dog bite liability if he or she can prove that the dog attack was the result of provocation. In other words, owner may not be liable if the victim provoked, harassed, or aggravated the dog to the point of attack. The owner may also avoid liability in some cases where the dog bite victim was fully aware of the risk of being injured, but voluntarily continued the actions or behaviors that led to the dog attack.

Non-Bite Dog Attack Laws

Several states impose dog bite laws that only apply to dog bite injuries. In these cases, the victim may not be protected if he or she suffers a non-bite injury, such as sustaining injury after being knocked down by a dog. These fringe incidents are often assessed on a case-by-case basis, examining the state’s specific laws in conjunction with the exact details surrounding the injury. Dog bite victims are encouraged to contact a dog bite attorney in the state where the incident occurred. A dog bite attorney can help navigate state laws to determine which dog attack and dog bite laws, if any, may apply to the case.




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