Legal Responsibilities of Dog Owners

Almost half of all U.S. households have dogs. And it’s not hard to understand why when you see that wagging tail and lopsided tongue. Dogs make great companions.

Unfortunately, although our furry friends may give us countless hours of joy and a sense of security, they also come with the legal responsibility to prevent them from attacking and injuring other people.

Just about every state has enacted some form of dog bite law that specifies who is responsible, or “liable,” for paying the medical bills associated with an animal attack. In all but scarce situations, the owner of the aggressive dog or animal is held liable for the damage their pet causes; however, the severity of dog bite law varies state-by-state.

Dog bite liability breaks down into three categories:

· Strict liability laws

· “One Bite” laws

· Negligence

Strict Liability

Many states, including California, New Jersey, and Colorado, enforce strict liability laws when it comes to dog bites. Strict liability method that you, the owner, are accountable for almost any damage or injury your pet causes. You can put up fences or warning signs, take adequate steps to restrain your dog, or already warn someone not to pet the animal, but if your dog causes an injury, you will nevertheless be liable.

There a few exceptions in strict liability law in which you may not be held liable for a dog bite in applicable states. for example, you may be exempt if:

· Someone enters your character without your permission, a trespasser

· A veterinarian is bit while treating your dog

· Someone provokes your dog, such as remarkable your pet with a stick or their hand

“One Bite” Liability

Some states, like Texas and Virginia, have “one bite” laws which are less harsh than strict liability because it allows dog owners a first-time exemption if their pet bites someone. Basically, you get a “free” bite the first time around, but if your dog bites again then you will be held liable.

Once more, there are a handful of exceptions to the “one bite” rule that relinquish an owner’s right to a “free” bite. Owners who knew, or should have known, that their dog could hurt someone -a factor known as “dangerous propensity”- are no longer protected under “one bite” law. Other exceptions include:

· The dog regularly snaps at people, or acts aggressively

· You warn people that the dog bites


Almost every state has some form of negligence dog bite law that holds owners responsible for negligent actions resulting in an animal attack. There are many factors that can constitute negligent behavior, but simply put, negligence is when you act inappropriately, or fail to act appropriately, resulting in an injury.

Some examples of when a dog owner is held liable for negligence are:

· The owner lets the dog run free in spite of of leash laws

· The owner knows his pet is easily excitable and doesn’t take the necessary steps to protect house guests from the dog

· The fencing, rope, or chain isn’t secured enough to restrain the dog

If a dog attacks someone in a state where strict or “one bite” liability is enforced, but there isn’t enough proof to substantiate one of these claims, the owner may nevertheless be liable for negligence.

Legal Protection From a Dog Bite Attorney

A majority of dogs are friendly and perfectly harmless. However, sometimes there are those frightening moments when a violent animal lashes out at an innocent passerby, or an aggressive reaction is triggered in a customarily calm dog.

If this happens to you, talk to a premises liability attorney about your state’s dog owner liability laws and what your legal rights are regarding compensation.

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