When is a dog owner liable for a dog bite?
Hoosiers love dogs.
According to the most recent analysis conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Indiana has the 6th highest percentage of dog owners in the country.
Fortunately for U.S. Postal Workers and everyone else, the vast majority of dogs are friendly and don’t bite anything other than their chew toys. Nevertheless, dogs are animals and animals can be unpredictable.
So when a dog bites a person in Indiana, who’s liable?
Let’s take a look.
Indiana’s dog bite laws
When it comes to dog bites, most states apply 1 of 2 rules:
- Strict liability. In states that apply strict liability, an owner is liable for a dog bite regardless of whether or not the dog has displayed aggressive or violent tendencies in the past.
- One-bite rule. In states that apply a one-bite rule, an owner is only responsible for a dog bite if the owner knew or should have known about their dog’s violent tendencies.
Indiana applies the one-bite rule in most situations. Therefore, in most cases, a dog owner will only be held liable for damages related to a dog bite if the owner knew or should have known that the dog was likely to attack or bite others without being provoked.
This rule can be thought of as a negligence law in the sense that the court will attempt to determine whether the dog owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from injuring the plaintiff in light of the dog’s past. If the dog has been violent before, the court will likely determine that the owner was responsible for taking certain steps to prevent dog bites (such as putting a muzzle on the dog when in public).
However, Indiana adopted strict liability for certain cases involving government workers. Specifically, a dog owner is strictly liable for a dog bite if the dog bites a person who:
- Is acting peaceably, and
- Is in a location where the person is required to be in order to discharge a duty imposed upon the person by the laws of Indiana (such as a local police officer), the laws of the U.S., or the postal regulations of the U.S. (such as a mail carrier).
Criminal liability for dog bites in Indiana
In certain situations, a dog owner may face criminal penalties for a dog bite.
A dog owner is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor if:
- The owner recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally fails to take reasonable steps to restrain the dog,
- The dog enters property other than the property of the dog’s owner, and
- As a result of the owner’s failure to restrain the dog, the dog bites or attacks another person without provocation, resulting in bodily injury to the other person.
The owner can be convicted of a felony if the injuries result in death.
Common defenses to dog bite claims
There are 3 primary defenses to a dog-bite claim that falls under the one-bite rule:
- The owner had no way of knowing the dog would bite someone unprovoked (i.e., the dog had never exhibited violent or aggressive behaviors before)
- The dog was provoked
- The injured person was bitten while unlawfully on the owner’s property
In a strict liability situation, dog owners are mostly limited to the following defenses:
- The victim wasn’t bitten
- The victim was trespassing at the time of the injury
- The victim provoked the dog
Dog bite damages
Just like other premises liability lawsuits, a plaintiff in a dog bite lawsuit in Indiana can recover economic and non-economic damages, including:
- Medical expenses
- Property damage
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
If an individual is killed by a dog bite, the family of the deceased may be able to recover damages by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about dog bites and animal attacks
Do I need to report a dog bite?
If you’re bitten by a dog, safety should be your top priority. As a result, your first call should be to 9-1-1 if necessary. Once you’re safe, Indiana requires all animal bites to be reported to the local health department where the injured person lives.
Additionally, physicians are required by law to report all animal bites.
What if I’m injured but not bitten?
A dog may attack and injure a person without biting them. For example, a dog might knock a person to the ground, causing the person to strike their head on the pavement. In these situations, the dog bite statutes don’t apply. Nevertheless, the injured person can still receive damages by filing a negligence lawsuit against the dog owner.
What if my dog is bitten?
Indiana’s dog bite statutes only apply to situations when a dog bites a person. If a dog bites your dog, you’ll need to prove that the dog’s owner was negligent in order to recover the damages associated with the bite (vet expenses, etc.).
How long do I have to file my dog bite lawsuit?
Under Indiana’s statute of limitations, you have 2 years to file a personal injury lawsuit, including those arising from dog bites and animal attacks.