Most PI lawyers and cops assume private dog owners are 100% at fault for dog attacks. Mostly, this is a misunderstanding of California’s legal term: “strict liability.” But strict liability in dog bite law only means few defenses apply. It doesn’t mean owners or controllers of assaulting dogs get off scot free.
In other states and countries, attack victims must prove the dog was a known danger. Only then will liability attach under negligence. But even in those states, owners cannot escape being sued 100% of the time for intentional acts. For example, when an owner unjustifiably sicks his dog on a victim or uses his dog to rape a victim, liability attaches. The same would go for shooting a person with a gun with no justification.
So first, people need to know that animal attacks are not always the fault of the owner. So people need to recognize when defenses do and do not apply.
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When Are Pet Owners Responsible for their Pets?
Pet owners should be aware if their dog bites a person, they can face civil suits. The news often has stories of victims that suffer dog bite attacks. These stories relate to injuries suffered, the impounding of the dog, and the consequences the owner faces.
Dog owners facing possible civil suits should consider consulting an experienced dog bite lawyer. The attorney that specializes in dog bite injuries can specify the applicable law and how this could affect them.
The responsibility for the dog’s actions is not always to the dog owner. This remains true even after the dog bites a person. For example, there are some instances when the dog bite occurs with justifiable cause. But as discussed, every state has their specific dog bite laws.
- The Victim was aware of the risk or was careless: What if the victim knew the dog might bite and chose to ignore the risk, or accepted the risk? Believe it or not, the owner might not be at fault. Again, this will depend on the state laws. What if the owner has a “beware of dog” signs posted or makes certain the person was aware of the danger? Again, the owner may escape fault. One instance could be a professional boarding or grooming business. In that case, those companies may assume the risk of assaulted by an animal under their care. After all, the dogs are spooked and away from their element. So that could be taken as a part of the job. They may not be able to sue.
- Provoking a dog: Provoking a dog, whether intentional or unintentional, means the dog can be expected to protect itself from harm. So in this case, the dog owner may not be at fault. Imagine if the dog was being teased, tormented or hit by the victim that suffered the dog bite. In some cases, the dog bites a victim that unintentionally provoked the dog, such as invading its space, food or even stepping on its paw. Even then the dog owner may not retain fault. But this remains a wobbler. In other words, it could go either way. But the dog felt may have felt it was in danger. So there is the inquiry for a judge and jury.
- Trespassing: When a person suffers a dog bite while trespassing or in the act of illegal activity, the dog owner may not be at fault. So this remains a gray area in some respects. Juries have had no sympathy for the person trespassing to commit a burglary and suffered a dog bite attack. But when the person was a child or adult entering the property with no harm intended, it may have a different outcome.
How Can Dog Owners Avoid a Civil Suit?
The dog owner can take action to protect themselves and their dog from legal actions. So this requires being vigilant in preventing the dog from biting any person. While in some instances it remains avoidable, some precautions exist for the dog owner to take. These stay especially true if the dog may bite.
Obviously, using a muzzle in some instances can be intelligent. But many more methods exist to avoid suits.
- Use Warning Signs. Dogs are protective of their territory naturally. So by putting up warning signs or “beware of dog” signs, it warns people before entering your property they could be at risk. In any event, this can protect the dog owner legally. Most people will not enter the property that has a warning sign placing them in danger of a dog attack.
- Gate Locks. Locking the gate shows an effort to keep people out of danger. In other words, the dog owner is protecting people from possibly getting bit. A stranger on secured property is likely trespassing. In other words, they are on the premises without permission of the owner.
- Do not let aggressive dogs near children and strangers. An owner who knows the dog may bite or attack, should take the dog to a place of hiding. At a minimum, secure or contain the dog. Also, do so a way that keeps the dog from a stranger or child. Also, this can mean putting the dog in another room or a kennel. That way the child or adult remains unmolested while present on the property.
Dog owners do not want to be in a situation where their pet has unjustifiably bitten another person, who meant no harm. Due to negligent dog owners, in the past and present, the responsible dog owner, will need to prove their dog had a legitimate cause to bite.
This is where being proactive is the best form of defense. So post signs, lock the gate or put the dog out of range when they feel threatened. Also, this protects the owner and the dog from a possible civil lawsuit and dog impounding.