Typically, when a dog bites someone, the dog’s owner is responsible for compensating the victim for their injuries. Each state has its own laws regarding dog bite liability, some of which impose strict liability for such injuries. However, there are some defenses that dog owner’s will assert in order to avoid liability. So, when is a dog owner not responsible for a dog bite? Following are some common examples.
Common defenses used in dog bite cases
Although not all of these defenses are recognized in all states, it helps to be familiar with some common defenses in case you are faced with them during litigation of a dog bite case. Dog owners may be able to avoid liability if the victim:
- provoked the dog
- knowingly took the risk of being injured by the dog
- was trespassing
It is also important to recognize that not all of these defenses apply when the victim is a young child. For example, most courts hold that, depending on the age, a child is unable to appreciate the risks of being injured by a dog.
The dog was provoked
A dog owner may be able to successfully defend a lawsuit by showing that the injured person provoked the dog. Courts have held that hitting and teasing a dog, for instance, clearly constitute provocation. Provocation does not have to be intentional, either. If the victim accidentally steps on the dog’s tail, that may still be considered provocation. There may be an exception to this defense, though, if the dog is known to be easily provoked, but the owner did not take steps to avoid that type of situation.
The victim knowingly risked being injured
One of the most common examples of a situation where this defense applies is when the dog owner has a “Beware of Dog” sign displayed prominently in his yard. Another situation where this defense is usually applicable, is when individuals have jobs working with dogs, such as groomers, veterinarians and kennel owners. They are generally presumed to voluntarily take the risk of being bitten. Again, there may be an exception if the worker has not yet taken control over the dog. For instance, if a groomer has not yet accepted custody of a dog (which is showing signs of aggression), then the groomer may not have accepted the risk.
The victim was trespassing
In most states, dog owners are not liable to trespassers who are injured by a dog. In general, a trespasser is someone who did not have permission or was not invited onto the property. However, in some states, unless you warn people to stay off your property with signs or locked gates, you are considered to have given an “implied invitation” to members of the public to approach your door. So, if your child climbs a fence to retrieve a ball from the neighbor’s yard and is bitten by a dog, he will likely be considered a trespasser. In some situations, there may be a legal responsibility for a dog owner to either prevent a child from coming on the property or to keep the dog from injuring the child.
If you have questions regarding dog bite defenses, or any other personal injury issues, call the Cottrell Law Office at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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