Are You Liable If Your Dog Bites Someone?

Dogs may be unbearably cute, but they’re also powerful animals with the ability to wound people. Every year, it is estimated that 4.7 million dog bites occur in the US. Last year there were 15 fatal dog attacks, down from the previous year’s 33. But are you legally responsible if your dog is one the one doing the biting?
Most states will hold an owner liable if their dog bites someone, even if the dog has no history of violence. Some have a ‘one bite’ provision, which shields an owner from the first bite provided there is no knowledge of the dog’s tendency to bite and provided that no other laws were broken at the time (for example, leash laws).

You can be sued in civil or criminal court by the victim for a variety of things including negligence, violation of leash laws and failure to stop an attack. The amount paid in compensation varies widely according to the level of injury, the treatment required, trauma suffered, loss of earnings and future disability. Although it is not likely that the victim will sue, it can happen.
What You Should Do if You’re Being Sued If your dog has bitten someone, there are few things you should do. The first is take care of the victim – offer to pay for any medical treatment needed. Ask for the victim’s story, but don’t get defensive and don’t take responsibility for the injury because there are legal consequences. Make sure you take down the details of any witnesses.
If you do receive a letter from a lawyer representing the victim, respond with your insurance (homeowner’s or renter’s) details and do not talk about the incident. If the time comes that a subpoena is issued, you’ll need to retain counsel, either through your insurance company or on your own. It may be expensive, but it’s not as expensive as losing and being liable for all the damages.
Other Things You Need to Know Now that your dog has bitten someone, your legal position has changed. You are no longer shielded by the ‘one bite’ rule because your dog now has a documented history of biting people. You can be brought to a civil or criminal court, or find yourself in ‘dog court’ with the animal control authorities. You may also find that if your dog bites someone again, your insurance won’t cover the payment to the victim.
You need to take your dog to the vet for advice. He or she may recommend an animal behaviourist who will be able to examine the dog and provide an assessment as to why it bit, and whether it is likely to bite again. Although there is a lack of breed predictability, certain breeds of dogs are more predisposed to aggression than others.
If training has failed, or if the animal behaviourist recommends that you have the dog put down, try to remember that it is an animal and that there are people’s lives at stake – including your own. You have a duty to protect yourself and your neighbours.
Kahmen Lee is a freelance writer who provides material for, specialists in personal injury claims.
Kahmen Lee is a freelance writer who provides material for, specialists in personal injury claims.

1 comment

  1. In a lot of states, my home state of California included, homeowners insurance policies are not available to people who own what the insurance companies consider to be “dangerous dogs”. German shepherds, doberman pincers, pit-bulls…obviously the insurance companies feel like it is too big of a risk.

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